New state law on port offers hope for Port Royal

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.
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. Staff photo

With a stroke of her pen, Gov. Nikki Haley renewed hope that the port site in the town of Port Royal might again bustle with activity.

But the governor's signature June 3 on a law forcing the S.C. State Ports Authority to sell the shuttered Port of Port Royal property by the end of June 2015 is merely a first step.

And probably the easiest.

After all, the authority was ordered to liquidate the 317-acre port property about a decade ago, but a 2009 deadline has come and gone, with nothing but broken deals punctuating the interim.

Make no mistake, a new law won't make a buyer magically appear.

However, this law does more to push along redevelopment if this stagnation continues. If the Ports Authority doesn't meet the new deadline, the property will be turned over to the state Division of General Services to be auctioned to the highest bidder.

Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Shannon Erickson, both Beaufort Republicans, deserve plaudits for pushing this law through the General Assembly, and now it falls to others to do their part, too.

For example, the Ports Authority must act urgently to arrange for a state-certified appraiser with knowledge of closed industrial sites to determine the property's value. A $22.5 million appraisal conducted a year ago was set by an appraiser with expertise in marine terminal facilities.

"The reality is, there are going to be some problems with that property," Davis has said, noting the current appraisal does not suitably account for environmental conditions that could cut the value in half. "You can't operate an industrial port for decades without some adverse effect on the property."

Additionally, the town of Port Royal must be committed to keeping the public informed about new options that result from this legislation.

The town went through painstaking planning so that the public had input and reasonable expectations about what redevelopment would bring.

However, that plan is now several years old, and the new law allows the property to be sold in smaller parcels.

As such, a sale could bring to the table land-use proposals not previously considered, as well as pleas for public funding of infrastructure. Some changes could be deal-makers, others deal-breakers.

Whatever the case, they are deal-changers that Port Royal residents have a right to know about and influence.