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Thursday, February 11, 2010

IDB tries to get rail spur project back on track

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Construction of a rail line from Clarksville-Montgomery Business Park in Tennessee to Commerce Park across Guthrie Highway is part of the infrastructure for the Hemlock Semiconductor plant is being built there, the Leaf Chronicle reports. As the project progressed, it became clear that construction would require a wider right-of-way in some sections because more slope was needed to the new rail bed and work continued without consent from the new property owner, FWJR Partnership.

The Industrial Development Board had an agreement with the prior owners of the property, UCAR, with the aim of someday extending a railroad in the industrial park.

"The (rail construction) engineer had sent me an e-mail saying I needed to talk with the property owner," IDB Director Mike Evans told board members during their Feb. 10 meeting, adding that he failed to act on it. "I just fell asleep at the wheel."

Board members decided last month to pursue with a land swap with FWJR for property the IDB owns on Alfred Thun Road, a mile or so from where the spur is being built.

A recent appraisal found that FWJR was owed about $100,000 in damages stemming from work contractor RJ Corman had done.

Under the deal being proposed, the board would receive the three-acre section of FWJR land where the right-of-way was exceeded. In exchange, a 2.9-acre plot along Alfred Thun, which is worth about $280,000, would go to FWJR. The appraisal numbers may be a point of dispute in negotiations.

Jeff Robinson of FWJR said his partnership nearly sold the three-acre parcel recently at $50,000 per acre. But after the railway construction encroached on plans for an access to the property, the buyers backed out. The board's appraisal value undercuts that sale price by more than a third.

Construction also violated the right-of-way agreement further up the rail line, Robinson said. The appraisal on that section valued the damages owed at $8,000, another number that may be at issue.

Robinson said the wider railway renders useless an area of property that could have been used as storage buildings, something he said have definite value in an industrial area.

Evans said the swap would offer each party the other's parcel at half its appraised cost, meaning about $90,000 would change hands to complete the deal. That would leave FWJR with the higher-valued land at what board member Mark Briggs said was a bargain.

Robinson said his partnership would likely submit a counter-offer sometime next week.

"We're 110 percent in favor of working this out and seeing the railroad go through there," he said. "It's in everybody's best interest. We just disagree with their assessment."

IDB members said condemnation and seizure of the property also needed to remain a viable option.