This editorial was updated Nov. 14, 2014, to correct the identification of Dick Stewart and business status of Elizabeth Jenkins and Nancy Vista.
It was supposed to be a watershed moment.
In 2004, the Port of Port Royal was deemed too expensive to operate, and the S.C. Ports Authority was ordered to sell it. Town leaders and residents started dreaming big, picturing a renaissance for their little town with new restaurants, shops, residences and industry at the 317-acre site.
Fast forward to today. The former port sits quiet and abandoned -- so dead that U.S. Navy SEALs periodically train there.
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No new commercial or residential development has occurred.
No new industry has set up show with high-paying jobs.
And town residents are understandably upset that the Ports Authority hasn't done more to sell the property and help the town achieve its redevelopment dream. Three attempts to sale the site have fallen through since 2006.
A recently filed lawsuit speaks to the growing resentment that residents feel. Former business owner Elizabeth Jenkins and business owner Nancy Vista, along with developer Dick Stewart, filed the suit against the authority, alleging it has mismanaged the sale and failed to follow the "prudent-man rule" of handling the asset as a thrifty person would. It also claims the authority "created circumstances that prevented the required sale to occur."
A spokeswoman for the authority has denied the claims.
We're not in a position to say whether the suit has merit. But we do believe strongly that residents have every right to feel snubbed and to expect more action than they've seen to date from the authority.
Take for example a law Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, pushed through the General Assembly earlier this year to increase the chance of a sale. It required a reappraisal of the property and set a deadline for a sale. To further sweeten the deal, the authority was granted permission to sell for as low as 80 percent of the new appraised value.
But the authority has withheld pertinent information from potential buyers, including such basic information as the new appraised value of the property.
We see no reason for such secrecy. In fact, it's a hindrance for would-be buyers, including Stewart, who are earnest in their desire to purchase parts of the property.
And it flies in the face of the public's right to know just what its government is doing to unload a state asset in the heart of a S.C. community.
Meanwhile, Port Royal suffers. Town manager Van Willis has said that if the property had sold for $17 million and remained undeveloped, the town would have collected more than $250,000 in property taxes annually. Of course, it would be substantially more had the property been developed.
"I want someone to notice that there are people who have been harmed," Vista said. "... There are dreams that are shattered. I just want someone to see it's had a big effect on a lot of folks, a lot of people, the whole town."
A yawning gulf exists between the government the people deserve and the government they're getting. The S.C. Ports Authority board needs to bridge the gap by becoming more transparent and doubling down on its efforts to sell.