Politics & Government

July 19, 2014

Progress toward sale of Port of Port Royal unknown

Six weeks after Gov. Nikki Haley signed a law intended to expedite the sale of the Port of Port Royal, its current owner, the S.C. State Ports Authority, is not saying much about whether progress is being made.

Six weeks after Gov. Nikki Haley signed a law intended to expedite the sale of the Port of Port Royal, its current owner, the S.C. State Ports Authority, is not saying much about whether progress is being made.

The legislation, which took effect June 3, requires the property to be sold by June 30, 2015. If it is not, it will be auctioned off.

“We don’t have information to share at this time regarding the Port Royal property sale,” authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand said in an email response to questions from The Beaufort Gazette. “We are continuing to market and pursue the sale of the property, and its development will comply with the planned development agreement.”

However, Dhand would not say if any arrangements have been made to reappraise the property, as the law requires. Neither would she say if any new prospective buyers had emerged for the 317 acres, 52 of which are suitable for development.

The port has been vacant since 2004, when it was deemed too expensive to continue operating. The Ports Authority was ordered to sell the land, but three attempts since 2006 to do so have fallen through.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, led the effort to pass the new law designed to speed the property’s sale.

Davis said he was told by authority officials a month ago that they were taking steps toward a new appraisal, but hasn’t heard much since. Port Royal town manager Van Willis said he hasn’t received an update recently but added he hasn’t asked for one. Erickson could not be reached for comment Friday.

The appraisal is key, Davis has said.

The land’s current appraised value of $22.5 million was set in spring 2013 and was based on its worth as a marine terminal facility, though it is not likely to be used that way again. The new state law requires that the land be reappraised as a closed industrial site.

Such an appraisal would take into consideration any environmental hazards present and is likely to lower the asking price, Davis and others have said.

Developer Dick Stewart has commissioned his own appraisal for part of the property. This spring, an offer of $1.2 million, or the appraised price, for a portion of the land by the Santa Elena Foundation, which Stewart then served as treasurer, was rejected by the Ports Authority, which said the bid was too low and was not for the entire parcel.

The authority subsequently decided to allow the land to be sold in three predetermined parts, and the new legislation allows additional flexibility.

Stewart’s appraisal is for the southernmost part, which includes the section the foundation attempted to purchase. He said he has no current interest in developing the property — although that could change — and is doing the appraisal on behalf of the foundation. He is currently on its advisory board.

“We’re just trying to help the Ports Authority do what they are mandated by state law to do, and it looks like, based on their performance, they could use a hand out,” he said.

Port Royal Councilman Joe Lee said he believes other developers and people involved or interested in the property are waiting to see what comes out of Stewart’s appraisal. He added that the Ports Authority still does not appear to be moving with urgency.

“Well, thank goodness there is an individual willing to step up and do it,” Lee said.

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