Commissioner could benefit from railroad receiving county incentives

Commissioner could benefit from railroad receiving county incentives
Giles Byrd & Son shipped 12 carloads of limestone on Carolina Southern Railroad in 2010 but would expect to ship 100 carloads each year if service was restored, according to a report filed with the federal Surface Transportation Board. (Source: WECT)
Giles Byrd & Son shipped 12 carloads of limestone on Carolina Southern Railroad in 2010 but would expect to ship 100 carloads each year if service was restored, according to a report filed with the federal Surface Transportation Board. (Source: WECT)

WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) - The Columbus County commissioner who made the motion Monday to give an undisclosed company $1.8 million to re-open a railroad stands to benefit from the service, according to documents filed with the federal government.

At the request of local counties and cities impacted by the shuttered railroad, Dr. Henry Lowenstein, a consultant and professor at Coastal Carolina University, conducted a report examining demand for the freight rail service. The report was included in a complaint filed in February with the Surface Transportation Board in Washington.

As part of his study, Lowenstein asked former rail customers how many carloads they would expect to ship if the line was re-opened.

One of the companies listed in the report is Giles Byrd & Son, which is owned by Columbus County Commissioner Giles "Buddy" Byrd, according to the North Carolina Secretary of State's website.

The report states that Giles Byrd & Son shipped a dozen carloads of limestone on Carolina Southern Railroad in 2010 but would expect to ship 100 carloads each year if service was restored.

The company was one of 15 to respond to the survey conducted in 2013, according to Lowenstein's report, which included businesses in Columbus County as well as Horry and Marion counties in South Carolina.

Byrd did not mention his business interest at the meeting Monday night when commissioners voted unanimously to award the incentive of $180,000 each year for a decade.

Unlike most county incentives projects, the rail grant is not contingent on specific job-creation or investment requirements.

"I think it's one of the best decisions Columbus County has made in a long time," he told the board.

After the meeting, when asked about his business relationship with the railroad, Byrd said, "I think Columbus County as a whole will benefit from the rail being re-opened and running, not just me or any other individual that's along that line."

Byrd said he made the motion to award the incentives because he knows more about the potential deal than the other commissioners. Along with the county manager and economic developer, Byrd represents Columbus County on the two-state committee working to restore rail service.

"We haven't divulged a lot of information to the fellow commissioners because we have been sworn in secrecy," Byrd said.

Byrd and other members of the two-state committee met with the potential buyers Monday in South Carolina hours before the vote.

Horry County (S.C.) Council will vote on an identical incentive grant Tuesday night, Byrd said.

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