CSX ‘committed’ to Johnston Co. project despite opposition

CSX meeting in Smithfield, N.C. (WNCN)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A company that wants to put a shipping terminal in Johnston County said Wednesday that it is committed to the project even though a proposed site is in jeopardy.

On Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory said a site in Johnston County planned for a CSX shipping terminal is not “a viable option.”

CSX, in a statement Wednesday, said, “CSX is committed to this infrastructure project which will create jobs, deliver a distinct competitive advantage for large and small businesses, and spur economic development. We look forward to working with all interested stakeholders to address concerns and move the project forward.”

The CSX project is scheduled to build a huge shipping terminal in Selma. It was announced Jan. 14, and the company said it will be an intermodal transportation hub that will create hundreds of jobs.

The estimated cost of the project is $272 million but it has drawn widespread resistance.

“Based on the vote of local officials as well as serious land issues, the current site in Johnston County does not appear to be a viable option. We will continue to work with CSX to explore alternative sites in order to create jobs and enhance our state ports,” McCrory’s office said.

The announcement has been met with fierce opposition from local and state officials.

The biggest concern people around the proposed site is why they weren’t approached about the project sooner.

“My dad grew up here, he farmed this land. My grandpa grew up here, he farmed this land. I mean, you know it meant so much to be able to have this business and bring people to my family farm for this project,” said Trent Lassiter of his event venue, The Farm.

Lassiter has been heading the fight against the CSX transportation hub project.

He’s not all-together against it, just against its current proposed site on his land.

“I don’t care if it’s a railroad hub or a subdivision or a Six Flags over Selma. We’re not interested in selling the land,” said Lassiter.

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the state has been in talks with csx about a hub in the eastern region of the state since March of 2014. Yet Lassiter said he and 34 other property owners didn’t find out their land was wanted until two weeks ago.

“If we had been approached a year ago, or two years ago by CSX or county officials, or state officials, anybody, and sat down and said, ‘look, here’s a map of the project, it’s a big project. Your land is ideal, let’s talk about your land.’ We would have told them a long time ago it wasn’t for sale,” said Lassiter.

Johnston County Economic Developer Chris Johnson said that’s not the way business is usually done, but that’s the way CSX went about it.

“They were wanting to wait until after the project was announced so they could be up front and honest with the property owners and say, ‘Look there’s a project looking at the area. We’d like to discuss this with you as far as the possibility of purchasing your land,” said Johnson.

In November of 2015 a project description was submitted by the Upper Coastal Rural Planning Organization for funding under the Strategic Transportation Investments Law. It listed Johnston County as the preferred county for the site. Wayne, Wilson, Nash and Wake counties were also listed as possible locations for the project.

“It is a great project for not only Johnston County, but Eastern North Carolina. But only with willing land owners that are able to work with CSX and the state to find a suitable location for the project,” said Johnson.

Both Johnson and Lassiter said some property owners willing to work with CSX. Johnson asks people with property along the CSX rail line, who are willing to sell, to give his office a call.

The Johnston County Commissioners decided Wednesday night that they did not support the location of a CSX rail hub in the county.

“The commissioners were not going to be a party to any type of eminent domain threat on the property owners,” said Tony Braswell, chairman of the board of commissioners.

Braswell said Tuesday commissioners were “happy” about the project initially but grew concerned soon after, as they started hearing from people who would be impacted.

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