Working on the Carolina Southern Railroad
By Paul Gable
A committee formed to discuss ways in which the Carolina Southern Railroad may be helped back into operation may be causing more problems than it can solve.
Formed as an informal, joint discussion committee between officials in the three counties served by Carolina Southern Railroad, it seems to have evolved into something entirely different.
According to committee meeting minutes, at least nine different city or county councils, from two states (North and South Carolina), have appointed members to what amounts to an informal committee.
By its November 7 meeting, the committee, now calling itself the Interstate Railroad Committee of North and South Carolina, was discussing a “budget” of $100,000 to be allocated among the three county governments represented – Horry and Marion in South Carolina and Columbus in North Carolina.
More worrisome, the committee was conducting executive session for “discussion of negotiations and legal matters,” according to the November 7, 2012 meeting minutes.
The November 7, 2012 meeting minutes further state, “Co-Chairman Wendel announced that the purpose of the executive session was to discuss various legal approaches that might be needed to protect jurisdictions being impacted by the railroad.”
Nature and politics abhor a vacuum. This committee, with no legal basis to do anything other than hold informal discussions and bring back suggestions to the three counties and other public bodies interested in continued railroad operations, inserted itself into the vacuum.
All of a sudden, this committee was “protecting jurisdictions”, something it has no legal right to even consider. That is the job of elected city and county councils and cannot be transferred to some quasi committee with no official standing.
Sources familiar with the committee discussions tell us the phrase “eminent domain” came up more than once. This committee, with no legal standing whatsoever, was discussing the use of eminent domain to acquire railroad property, according to our sources.
One other “minor” difficulty, apparently outside the scope of the “legal matters” discussed, is the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress exclusive power over trade activities among the states.
Any consideration of legal abandonment of the railroad and/or eminent domain acquisition must be taken to the appropriate federal body designated by Congress, in this case probably the federal Surface Transportation Board.
An informal committee, with no legal standing or authority, should not be discussing or receiving legal briefings on such matters. It is entirely out of their purview.
Allowing this committee to continue in the fashion it has presented itself to date will lead, in our opinion, to a ‘train wreck’ in the coming months. No pun intended.