Editorial: Buying transload site is right step

Apr. 04, 2013 @ 03:10 AM

You have to wonder whether, if it were anyone other than Google coming in, Caldwell County leaders in 2007 would have thought it reasonable to close a five-mile section of railroad and use $1.3 million in federal, state and local money to create the freight-transfer facility that has introduced this area’s residents to the word “transload.”

The transload facility – “transload” refers to moving shipments from one mode of transportation, such a rail, to another, such as trucks – makes it possible to continue serving the freight needs of industries beyond the current end point of the rail spur. And it potentially could serve new industries as well, as some Lenoir City Council members mentioned at their meeting Tuesday night.

But as council members also noted, while there is a company willing to lease and operate the facility, no one seems to want to own it, including some of the government officials who have voted in favor of the city and county joining to buy it.

As Councilman Todd Perdue said, shortly before voting in favor of the deal, “If it’s valuable to us, it should be valuable to someone else.”

But it’s not, at least not so far.

Officials obviously felt in 2007 that the creation of the facility was justified by the tangible and intangible benefits the city and county would get from landing Google. And it appears that judgment has been borne out.

It’s impossible to argue that having Google here doesn’t get the county more attention and consideration than it would have before, and from a wider array of companies. And Councilman T.J. Rohr, who voted against the purchase deal, said that tax revenues post-Google are higher than they were before.

Still, it’s clear that the underlying situation of government ownership of any means of production simply rubs some local officials the wrong way. Several of those who voted in favor of the deal Tuesday night qualified their support by saying so.

If there is a clear need for a certain service, shouldn’t there be private entities clamoring to fill that need?

Theoretically, yes.

But here, as with rural electrification and the interstate highway system, except on a much smaller scale, sometimes there is a need that only government is willing or able to step in and meet. In this case, a cloud of debt and a bank lien hanging over the property help create a situation that only the government is able to resolve in a way that keeps the facility running.

We can hope later that the transload facility gains customers and some company becomes interested enough to take it off the public’s hands, preferably at a nice profit for local government. But in the meantime, messy and unsatisfying as it may be, government ownership of the transload facility seems to be the most practical of the options available.