Town officials encouraged Port of Port Royal bill has passed legislature

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 20, 2014 

The town of Port Royal is seeking $22.5 million to help purchase the Port of Port Royal, shown, from the S.C. Ports Authority.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

A bill to speed the sale of the Port of Port Royal is headed to the governor's desk after passing the S.C. House and Senate.

It's a step in the right direction, said the bill's author, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has worked closely with other legislators, including Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, on the legislation. The bill passed the House on Thursday and the Senate on Tuesday.

"We've got to instill a sense of urgency here, and we've got to get the Ports Authority to have a more realistic view of what it's worth," he said.

The 317-acre property -- which includes 52 acres suitable for building -- has been vacant since 2004, when the State Ports Authority decided it was too expensive to continue operating. The Ports Authority has been ordered to sell the land, but three attempts since 2006 have fallen through.

"It's absolutely killing downtown Port Royal," Davis said. "We're not talking about something that's tucked away; were talking about pretty much all of the waterfront property in Port Royal."

The bill that passed the General Assembly requires the property be sold -- either in whole or parts -- by June 30, 2015, or it will be auctioned. It must be sold for at least 80 percent of its appraised value, either on the open market or at auction. If auction prices don't meet or exceed that floor, the General Services Division would put the port back on the market.

If a sale is pending when the deadline passes, a 120-day grace period will be allowed to complete the transaction.

A key factor, Davis said, is the requirement of a new appraisal by a state-certified appraiser with knowledge of "closed industrial sites," rather than expertise in marine terminal facilities, as current legislation requires.

"The reality is, there are going to be some problems with that property," he said. "You can't operate an industrial port for decades without some adverse effect on the property."

The land was appraised at $22.5 million a year ago. Davis, a real estate attorney, said he believes a specialized appraisal that accounts for environmental conditions would value the property at about $11 million to $12 million.

A statement from Ports Authority external affairs manager Matt Tomsic said, "We look forward to finding a suitable buyer and selling our property at the Port of Port Royal expeditiously."

Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray said he believes Gov. Nikki Haley will sign the bill quickly.

"Maybe this will speed up things and put a little pressure on the Ports Authority to do something," he said.

The town is pitching the purchase of the port for inclusion on the proposed Beaufort County capital projects sales-tax list, which could go before countywide voters in a fall referendum. The legislation has been edited to reflect the potential sales-tax purchase option and specifically states that the town or county or both may purchase the land according to price stipulations in the bill.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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