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A $3 million deal by the S.C. State Ports Authority to sell 25 miles of railroad to Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority could happen as early as next week, officials from both agencies said.
The Port Royal Railroad, which links Port Royal to Yemassee, was closed in 2003 when the state deemed it not profitable. The move coincided with the shuttering of the Port of Port Royal, where the tracks end.
Now, BJWSA wants to protect its utility lines that run beneath the tracks by buying the railroad line. The water authority has several water and sewer lines running under the railbed -- including the main water line for Lady's Island.
If the right of way disappeared or was developed, those pipes would be at risk, general manager Dean Moss said.
The water authority has a license agreement to use the area, but it is contingent on the Ports Authority's right of way for the railroad."In the utility business, the right of way is gold," Moss said.In March, the federal Surface Transportation Board upheld the Ports Authority's claim to the railway that made it possible for the transfer between authorities to occur.
"Unless something unusual comes up, I think it'll pass (at the Ports Authority meeting Tuesday)," said Colden Battey Jr., an authority board member who has been working on the project. "We've pretty much agreed to sell to Beaufort-Jasper. But we're not talking about something that's a done deal, yet."<u>
Moss said he expects the water authority's board of directors to sign the contract to purchase the railroad at its meeting Thursday. The 8 a.m. meeting is open to the public for comment, but the discussion regarding the railroad will be held in executive session.
However the deal, which also must await the OK from the federal Surface Transportation Board, would not close until the fall. The item could get on the federal board's agenda by the summer, Moss said. If the federal board supports the transfer, the water authority must wait for 60 days to make sure there are no appeals, Moss said.
Then, it will go forward with a master plan for use of the property.
But the water authority's plans for the property only extend below ground. What will be done above the surface still needs to be determined.
"A lot of people are anxious to get stuff there," Moss said.
Ideas floating around include a bike trail or park, but the water authority by state law cannot undertake those projects. Instead the authority is depending on the municipalities to form a consortium and submit plans for public use and community benefit.