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Community : Top Stories Last Updated: Jan 9, 2013 - 9:14:47 AM

SPA misses first deadline
By Elizabeth Bush
Jan 9, 2013 - 9:04:15 AM

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The graphic to the left shows who owns the undeveloped land at the end of Daniel Island Drive. State law required that the portions owned by the State Ports Authority (labeled Transportation Cell, North Cell, Cooper Cell, Middle Cell and Wando Cell) be under contract for sale by 2012 and sold by 2013, or it will revert to the state’s Budget and Control Board. The Board missed the 2012 deadline.

No one has expressed serious interest as of yet in purchasing about 495 acres of land owned by the State Ports Authority (SPA) on Daniel Island. The lack of a buyer for the property, which is located along the Cooper River side of the island, means the SPA was not able to meet a state-mandated deadline to have the parcels under contract by December 31, 2012.
“The Ports Authority continues to offer the property for sale in accordance with the statute,” explained Allison Skipper, SPA Public Relations Manager. “No qualified offers have been presented to date and the property is not under contact, but we are hopeful that the prospects of an acceptable sale will emerge as the real estate market improves.”
The SPA was directed by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2009 to “sell under those terms and conditions it considers most advantageous to the authority and the State of South Carolina all real property it owns on Daniel Island and Thomas Island,” except for those parcels needed for port dredging operations and construction of the new North Charleston Terminal. The sale was to be “timed and concluded on a schedule that prudently considers all market conditions affecting the sale,” according to the legislation. The land must be sold by December 31, 2013, or it will be placed under the authority of the State Budget and Control Board. According to Skipper, the SPA did not ask the state for an extension of the recently missed deadline to have the parcels under contract.
“We intend to sell the property in accordance with the statute by December 31, 2013,” she said.
State Representative Jim Merrill, a Daniel Island resident who is currently Vice Chair of the Port Review and Oversight Commission, was not surprised by the SPA’s response.  
“The SPA and its legal team are interpreting the law as prioritizing the December 31, 2013 date requiring the sale of the property as the actual deadline for action…The first of a series of timelines has passed and was not met. We are now entering into a stage where a sale must occur by the end of the year or it will revert to the board.”
Rep. Merrill says he is in continuous contact with the SPA and plans to work for a “meaningful and lasting resolution” for the Daniel Island property. In the coming months, he hopes to address whether or not the SPA is pursuing the sale of the property “with enough vigor,” how differing opinions and appraisals on the value of the land can be overcome, and how access issues can best be tackled. In addition, Merrill hopes SPA officials can also help identify innovative options for the property that might provide a resolution and eliminate future anxiety.
“I have been working on this issue since the beginning and have no intention of allowing something to happen without our community’s involvement,” he said. “But with the timetables that are in place and the various legal interpretations, we need to work within the confines of the existing law.”
Skipper confirmed that the SPA is still working with NAI Avant, a commercial property agent, to market their Daniel Island land, although NAI Avant did not appear to have any official listings for the property on their website. When asked how the parcels are being marketed, Skipper offered the following response:
“We are working with NAI Avant to refine property information to share with potential buyers.  This includes land surveys, environmental aspects, easements, aerial photographs, etc. We are developing a dedicated website for the property that will expand the exposure of this sale as we expect national and international inquiries.”
SPA officials have repeatedly, in past inquiries, denied requests to release the asking price for the property.  Skipper said the SPA welcomes offers from potential buyers, and “is willing to meet with any party who has a serious interest in purchasing the property.” 
As per the 2009 legislative directive, when selling the property on Thomas Island, first right of refusal must be given to those former landowners who sold their land to the SPA to make way for a transportation corridor that would provide access to a proposed Global Gateway Port on Daniel Island. Plans for the massive terminal were ultimately scrapped and a scaled down version of the project is currently in the works in North Charleston.  The legislation further states that the former Thomas Island landowners should be allowed to repurchase their land at the purchase price originally paid by the SPA.   The law also directs that each contract must contain a covenant creating an easement over the parcel that permits the SPA, and any successor interest to the authority, reasonable ingress and egress to the Daniel Island property.  Skipper said the SPA continues to be open to exploring options when it comes to their Daniel Island and Thomas Island land. 
“The Ports Authority is keeping all options open, depending on the details of an acceptable offer, including possibilities that may avoid or minimize retention of easements on Thomas Island. This cannot be determined until specific plans are prepared based on specific offers.”
The SPA currently owns close to 1200 acres on Daniel Island. Approximately 661 acres of the tract are being retained for dredging purposes and other port operations.
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