County seeks railway though 4-county partnership
by Staff Reports | April 16, 2017 7:12 am
Last Updated: April 16, 2017 at 3:14 am
A project that Clarendon County Council and the Clarendon County Development Board began more than a decade ago could finally get underway as the county continues to acquire the needed easements to build a rail system to the 1,400-acre Interstate 95 Mega Site sitting in the eastern portion of the county.
“We approached the current landowners on the 1,400-acre Mega Site and negotiated options to potentially purchase property,” said Administrator David Epperson. “To date, we have more than 600 acres under control and options to purchase the remaining 900-plus acres.”
The “rolling option,” Epperson said, renews each year, and the county is currently completing the rail study that will tell officials exactly how such a system can and will benefit the site.
“The rail study is needed in order to get a line from Alcolu roughly eight miles to the Mega Site,” Epperson said. “The reason we are doing this is that these companies need rail access at their sites. To really market a true Mega Site – and there are only a handful in the southeast – you have to have rail access. If we have this, we are in a good position to potentially land a project that’s huge.”
Not all residents are convinced, however. Sid McFadden said he has refused to sign paperwork to have his land surveyed.
“We don’t want a railroad access across the land,” he said. “We don’t think that anyone in Clarendon County knows what’s going on. We feel that not all our questions were answered.”
Epperson said the county has had “extensive talks” with various landowners involved. He also noted that no taxpayer funds were being utilized in this process. He said that the Mega Site is part of a four-county partnership, with all entities providing a “significant dollar amount of money in this rail study.”
“We are taking the study all the way through to actual construction plans,” he said. “If we start today, it would take us four years to start a rail spur up to that site, but we have cut nearly two years off.”
Epperson said that cutting those two years off and getting within a time-frame of building an actual facility on site is crucial.
“We can market that site as rail-ready so when a company says, ‘Yes, we are going to locate in Clarendon County,’ we can tell them we plan to be operational in, for instance, 24 months,” he said. “From now on, we can say, here are the construction plans that we have for the rail spur that will eventually serve this site, and we can get that within 24 months, so it fits within that time frame.”
Development Board Executive Director George Kosinski said the counties involved, besides Clarendon, including Lee, Sumter and Williamsburg.
“We are all partners on this project with hopes that, sooner rather than later, we land a big OEM-style industry on that project,” Kosinski said. “By OEM, I mean original equipment-type manufacturer, something like Akia Motors or General Motors.”
Kosinski said county officials have pushed a bit harder in the past year or so because “we don’t want to be left out.”
“We are getting more and more companies looking for a site like this,” he said. “We want to finish first on this, so we’re moving forward. There are 26 different landowners that this rail spur will potentially impact when we build this, because we will need a right-of-way to put the actual rail spur in.”
Out of those 26, Kosinski said the county has 25 signed access agreements.
“We know that this could potentially result in a rail spur coming in, and they will be compensated in some way for the 100-foot right-of-way,” he noted.
He said a project needing rail service at the Mega Site would “change the face of that area, not just Clarendon County.”
“Workers are going to come from Clarendon County, but also from our partner counties, and even Florence and Orangeburg, if you look at what these OEM-type projects do to these areas,” he said. “This project is an extremely important project for the area which could mean more industry which would create more industry and jobs for the four counties as a whole.”