The Columbus County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 16, to get citizen input on the proposed $2.15 million sale of the former Georgia-Pacific industrial site to the R.J. Corman Railroad Group.
The legally-required public hearing was scheduled by commissioners Tuesday night at the request of county economic developer Gary Lanier.
Commissioners also went into closed session for nearly an hour to “discuss issues involved in the proposed sale of the G-P site to R.J. Corman,” according to an account provided by County Manager/Attorney Mike Stephens, but no other details were released.
Commissioners went behind closed doors at 7:55 p.m. Tuesday to talk about the G-P site sale and about an unrelated personnel matter. Lanier remained in the closed meeting for about 20 minutes before departing.
Ten minutes later, Stephens emerged from the closed session looking for Lanier to return to the meeting, but Lanier had already departed. Negotiations for the railroad to buy the former industrial site from the county have been ongoing for months. The county and Corman entered into an “offer to purchase” agreement on Sept. 29 for the railroad to buy the site from the county for $2.15 million, an option that had to be exercised within 30 days for the agreement to remain valid. However, Corman since raised concerns about asbestos discovered on the site and, in accordance with the agreement, the agreement was put on hold.
County commissioners extended the purchase agreement for another 90 days while negotiations are underway for asbestos abatement.
A few days remain in that extension period, and Stephens said Tuesday night after the closed session that he fully expects negotiations to conclude successfully.
“Even though the asbestos issue has come up, both sides were working to resolve the issue and we are very positive that we will be able to work things out.”
Lanier earlier had characterized the asbestos found on the site as a relatively minor issue and also expressed confidence that a solution can be reached, which will result in the purchase of the property by Corman being culminated.
He also said a decision by county commissioners last year to purchase the site from Georgia-Pacific for $2 million saved the property from becoming a wasteland.
Lanier said a key to the G-P site is that the existing buildings have been preserved and will not be torn down. “They can be put back into productive use and create jobs. It was a big blow for Columbus County when we lost 460 jobs when G-P shut down. But there is opportunity. If Project Black comes about, that could mean about 200 jobs, and that will be a big economic help for our county,” Lanier said.
Project Black is an unnamed company that wants to recycle wood products into a new bio-fuel, details of which are trade secrets.
Lanier told the Columbus County Intergovernmental Council on Nov. 27, “R.J. Corman can put that site to good use. They can work with Project Black, which would be a big rail user. There are some other things that have come to light and it also could be used for some distribution-type operations in the county. All of this can happen. Right now, we’ve just got to get over this little snag about asbestos."