Lenoir agrees to revised deal to buy transload facility

Mar. 19, 2014 @ 04:02 PM

Lenoir agreed Tuesday night to purchase the controversial transload facility in partnership the county, but the deal nearly failed.

After a nearly hour-long closed session at the end of their meeting Tuesday night, members of the Lenoir City Council voted 4-3 to approve the deal. Council members Ron Stilwell, Ike Perkins and T.J. Rohr voted against the deal.

The city and county will split the $300,000 for the five-acre site that contains the tranload facility itself, where freight going to and from local industries is switched between trains and trucks, and an adjacent three-acre tract for potential future expansion. The county approved the deal Feb. 3.

Environmental contamination derailed a deal last year for the city and county to buy 11 acres, including the site of Robinson Lumber Co. at 2402 Norwood St. SW, at a cost of $900,000, with the county paying two-thirds. A later environmental study found levels of arsenic, cadmium and petroleum residues exceeding environmental standards at a number of sites on the property, mainly in the lumber yard.

Although the contaminated property was not included in the revised deal, and an opinion dated Feb. from the Brooks Pierce law firm in Greensboro said that the risk of the city and county being held liable for harm from the contaminants on the property they would not be buying is low, Stilwell said the city should not approve the purchase. That this deal puts city and county tax dollars at risk because of the potential contamination, he said.

But Mayor Joe Gibbons — who as mayor votes only in case of a tie, so did not vote Tuesday night — said the purchase was important to have rail freight service available for potential new businesses coming to the area.

The city and county set up the transload facility in 2007 after agreeing to close about five miles of rail as part of the deal to bring a Google data center to Lenoir. The rails ran past Google’s site, and the company was concerned about the effect of the train vibrations on its servers. The rails served several industries north of Google’s site, including Sealed Air Corp. off Valway Road.

Originally the city and county did not own the transload facility, and as the prospect of government ownership advanced over the past several years it drew some opposition from critics who said that the government should not be in the business at all. Other critics have said that the environmental concerns have not been effectively dealt with.

One of the critics, Linda Haas of Lenoir, spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting in opposition to the deal, urging the council to be sure that the property is free of any contaminants before moving forward.