County gets better deal to buy transload facility

Now up to Lenoir to approve split of cost
Feb. 04, 2014 @ 08:07 AM

The price Caldwell County will pay to buy the transload facility off U.S. 321-A that moves freight between trucks and rail cars has fallen by more than two-thirds since November 2012.

The Caldwell County Board of Commissioners approved a deal Monday night to buy it for $250,000, down from the $900,000 price they approved in November 2012, and to buy three adjoining acres for another $50,000, if Lenoir agrees to split the cost. Under the previous agreement, the county would pay two-thirds of the cost and the city one-third.

The transload facility was created using $1.3 million in federal, state and local funds in 2007 to serve industries cut off from rail service by the closure of five miles of rail, which was done to lure Google to Lenoir. The county and city agreed to suspend service on the rail line, which ran past Google's site, but officials needed a way to provide transportation services for companies affected by the suspension, including Sealed Air, Boone Lumber and New River Building Supply. At the transload site, freight is transferred between rail cars and trucks that run back and forth to the companies.

"I'm tickled to get it behind us," Clay Bollinger, chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners, said Monday night after the vote to approve the new purchase price. He called it "by far the best situation."

The Lenoir City Council probably will decide at its meeting tonight whether to agree to the same terms, Bollinger said.

The site has been leased since April 2007 from Carolina Transload LLC, a company formed by Robinson Lumber Co. president George Robinson. The use of taxpayer money for the transload facility has been controversial with some residents, who say that if the service it provides is valuable, a private company ought to be willing to step up and take it over.

The board voted unanimously Monday night to purchase the transload facility at the new price, and 4-1 to buy the additional three acres, with board chairman Jeff Branch casting the nay vote. Branch called the purchase of the three acres a "waste of taxpayer money," saying he couldn't see the facility growing enough to move into the extra space.

In other business, the commissioners heard a report that 2013 was one of the best years on record for economic development in Caldwell County. Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, said that the total number of projects and amount of private investments topped the commission's records for about the past 12 years, and that the commission is beginning 2014 "very encouraged."

The county's unemployment rate of 7.5 percent for November, as reported by the N.C. Department of Commerce,was the lowest since June 2008. The total number of people employed is not yet at 2008 levels, but it is improved and is equally encouraging, Murray said.