Horry County Council on Tuesday approved the expenditure of $1.8 million toward the purchase of Carolina Southern Railroad, though details of where the money will come from and in what form have not been announced.
Ken Pippin, president of Carolina Southern, said late Tuesday he believes that money will be used as a down payment toward the purchase.
The council’s vote Tuesday comes on the heels of a Monday vote by Columbus County, N.C., commissioners, who agreed to spend $1.8 million in tax incentives over the next decade to get the Carolina Southern Railroad rolling again through the area.
The line cuts through Marion County, as well, but they are not involved in the project financially, said Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman.
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Lazarus said economic development money will be used to fund the incentive.
“We have several resources that we’re talking to at this point and time to finalize that and that’ll come out at a later date,” Lazarus said. “Where this moves forward to is a sales contract with Carolina Southern Railroad.”
South Carolina law allows governments to withhold details of a sales agreement until the agreement has been signed by the buyer, which has yet to be named, and seller, said Jay Bender, media attorney and University of South Carolina professor.
Carolina Southern hauled freight to and from businesses primarily in Horry and Columbus counties until 2011, when it shut down after federal rail inspectors found structural problems on bridges that had to be corrected for it to continue operating.
Pippin has said repeatedly that the railroad doesn’t have the estimated $2 million needed for the repairs, and at least two attempts have failed to get a federal grant for the work.
A two-state committee, led by Tabor City, N.C., attorney Dennis Worley and Doug Wendel, a member of the executive board at the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., was formed to solve the problem. The committee and Pippin reached an agreement that the railroad would be put up for sale, and since then negotiators have been working out the price and the ownership.
Besides the $2 million estimated for critical bridge repairs, officials have said the line could need another $20 million in updates to raise it to a standard to allow trains to operate at more than 25 mph, as is the limit now.
Pippin said his company isn’t privy to who the reported buyer is, but “it sounds like we’re moving in the right direction.”
“It sure sounds like that,” Pippin said. “One of the things you have to understand is when you hear this stuff, that’s what we hear. We don’t have any deeper information.”
Pippin said he is unaware of any further grants the new buyer may be pursuing, but the new federal bridge standards have pushed his family-owned business out of being able to afford the improvements.
“The Pippin family has a record of saving railroads from extinction,” Pippin said. “The requirements on the bridge standards went beyond what a family-owned business could do.”
Wendel said the line will be used for transporting freight, “but there’s potential for other excursions on the railway.”
“Obviously Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. is excited about the prospect of getting the railroad back up and running,” Wendel said. “We’ve now reached the basic agreement on the terms and now we’ve got to go through the contractual arrangement.”