Water and sewer authority to acquire railroad right of way

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Water and sewer authority to acquire railroad right of way

By DEAN MOSS deanm@bhwsa.org
Published Sunday, May 18, 2008 in The Beaufort Gazette  |  729 Words  |  opinions/letters

The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority intends to acquire the right of way for the Port Royal Railroad from the State Ports Authority. This right of way extends from Ribaut Road in Port Royal to Yemassee. BJWSA's board of directors will vote at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday to enter into a purchase agreement with the Ports Authority for acquisition of the right of way; the closing is expected to occur in the fall.
This acquisition is important to water and sewer authority because it has many large pipelines installed in the right of way that would be at risk if the right of way were to disappear or be acquired for development. Additionally, it will be critical for the installation of future pipelines should the growth projected for Port Royal Island and other parts of northern Beaufort County occur. The water and sewer authority agreement with the Ports Authority requires that the right of way be placed in and protected by the federal rail bank. This federal program is designed to ensure that should the right of way be needed in the future for use as a railroad again, it would be available. The program will protect the right of way against possible claims of adjacent land owners but requires that nothing -- such as building construction -- can be done in the right of way that would be inconsistent with its future restoration as a railroad.
An extensive cost analysis was undertaken by water and sewer authority as part of its evaluation, and this demonstrated the desirability of acquiring the right of way. The water and sewer authority will pay the Ports Authority $3 million for the right of way or about $6,500 per acre. When compared to the costs the authority would incur if the right of way disappeared or to the costs of acquiring equivalent, new pipeline easements across private land, this price is very inexpensive. Part of this cost will be offset through the sale of an easement to South Carolina Electric & Gas for their existing trandmission lines along the right of way, and additional revenue will be recovered through the sale of the rails, ties and other materials.
The Ports Authority has previously entered into agreements with several land owners adjacent to the right of way. The water and sewer authority intends to honor these agreements through their current terms unless they involve or allow activities that pose a threat to pipelines or service activities. As these agreements expire, BJWSA will determine whether to renew them.
After the purchase is completed, estimated to be this fall, the water and sewer authority will remove the rails, ties and other railroad-related facilities and will ensure the road crossings are improved. The water and sewer authority will complete a master plan for future use of the land in support of BJWSA activities, which also will account for other existing and potential future utility uses.
The water and sewer authority understands that there is interest within the community in the development of the right of way as a linear park and recreational trail. Regardless of its desirability, BJWSA is prevented by state law from undertaking this type of development or from spending its funds to accomplish it. This type of activity is properly the responsibility of the county and municipal governments, by themselves or in cooperation with a not for profit organization.
BJWSA will make the right of way available to the county and the municipalities within the next year for them to begin development of any auxiliary uses they determine as long as these are consistent with the master plan for utility uses. We recommend these local governments engage in a formal planning effort with extensive community involvement. In its planning for future utility development of the right of way, BJWSA will endeavor to preserve the widest range of opportunity for recreational uses along the entire corridor.
This right of way is an important acquisition by the water and sewer authority. Not only will it preserve very important and valuable access for BJWSA lines, but it also has the potential to provide a great deal of public benefit in the future. We encourage the local governments and the community to work together to make this right of way the great asset it has the potential to be.