By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
IDA to seek annexation for Research Forest parcel
Placeholder Image

The Effingham Industrial Development Authority has agreed to ask Rincon to annex a portion of the Research Forest Tract, provided the city follows through on a set of stipulations.

In a 6-1 vote, IDA members agreed Thursday to request annexation for Tract D of the Research Forest Tract if Rincon City Council seeks a permit from CSX for an at-grade railroad crossing, pays for the fees associated for the crossing, builds the crossing and pays for a road to be paved from Highway 21 to McCall Road. The IDA also is requesting the city accept Tract D’s current zoning, as prescribed by county ordinances. Tract D is about 440 acres.

“We would have an intergovernmental agreement that Rincon would build the road,” said IDA Chairman Dennis Webb. “All of this is subject to intergovernmental agreements. In the last two or three years, I’ve been in a lot of meetings, and there have been a lot of phone calls.

“And we’re not done,” he continued. “This is a step down the road, and there is still a lot more to be worked out.”

Webb added the IDA and the city would have to get together on the route for the road. The road would be built to the city’s specifications, but the IDA would have input on where it would go.

“We’ll have to work out the design issues,” Webb said, “and some of that is going to be ours to do, and some of that is going to be Rincon’s. We’re going to have to come up with where those roads connect and how they come together.”

Webb added the IDA has to figure out as well where the rail spurs go.

“There’s a lot of work left to be done,” IDA CEO John Henry said.

Tract D lies within Rincon’s service delivery area, so the city will provide water and sewer service. If the needs for water and sewer service are beyond Rincon’s capability, Webb said the city indicated it may approach the county for help. The county has a water line running down McCall Road.

Getting the railroad crossing and then getting the road in could take several years, Webb warned.

“Without a road, there’s no benefit (to Rincon),” said IDA member Glenn Weston.

IDA member Leon Zipperer urged the board to start action on the tract.

“We’ve been sitting on this for 10 years,” he said. “All we’ve done is cut down a few trees.”

Jimmy Wells countered that Research Forest Tract has been on the IDA’s backburner, for a reason.

“We made a conscious decision of concentrating on I-16,” he said.

Charles Hinely, the longest-tenured IDA member, voted against the annexation. He said he wanted to make sure that what eventually was built on Tract D met the IDA’s plans.

“I was on the board when we voted for the condemnation, and I voted to condemn the land for industrial purposes,” he said.

Before IDA members weighed the Rincon annexation proposal, they also chewed over the future of the sprawling 2,577-acre tract. Members debated whether to keep the tract intact as much as possible or sell off parcels.

IDA member Chap Bennett broached the idea of selling off a parcel.

“We’ve got some expenses here,” he said. “We can’t figure out how to afford some of those expenses without selling some of the property.”

But Henry cautioned that if the IDA decides to split the tract up, the onus for financing the infrastructure, such as roads, water and sewer, would fall to the IDA.

Henry also said the Research Forest Tract has inherent advantages that are hard to find. Not only it is nearly 2,600 acres with industrial zoning, it also has two rail lines traversing it and it’s in close proximity to a major port and a major airport.

There is one site on the East Coast with all those elements in its favor, Henry said — the Research Forest Tract.

The Research Forest Tract has drawn interest from large manufacturers who located elsewhere in the Southeast, Caterpillar, which landed near Athens, and Volkswagen, which has opened a plant just outside of Chattanooga, Tenn.

“Every mega-project that has rolled through, including Caterpillar and Volkswagen, I have shown the site to them,” Henry said. “We have seen six to eight mega-projects. Transportation has killed every one of them. It’s the unknown.”

The proposed Effingham Parkway was intended to bisect the tract, and there also are plans for an east-west connector, with Hodgeville Road at one end and Highway 21 in Rincon at the other. When the transportation special purpose local option sales tax failed to garner enough votes in a 10-county region, the parkway plans were reduced drastically. Instead of a four-lane, limited-access, divided highway, it likely will be a two-lane road.

“We all felt it would be marketable because the transportation routes will be built,” Bennett said. “The thought is we would have the parkway and an east-west connector.”

The need for a road
The proposed cost of the parkway has been reduced from $120 million to $38 million. County Administrator Toss Allen said if the funding for the parkway is all from state and local sources, it won’t take as long to build than if there was federal funding involved.

Allen said the parkway is still about four to five years away from being finished. There are about three more years of planning left, and it is expected right-of-way acquisition will cost from $8 million-$10 million.

“We are putting skin in the game,” Allen said. “We are paying for design, right-of-way acquisition and engineering. The only thing we are asking the state for is construction money.”

The east-west connector won’t be as expensive, but the price tag will be steep — it may require two flyovers to cross the rail lines and even at $1 million a mile for the connector, the total cost may reach more than $20 million.

How the east-west connector ties in with a potential road from Highway 21 and getting access to Tract D is another puzzle.

“It’s still going to have to be done right and planned right.” Henry said. “We’re still focused on a two-lane at-grade railroad crossing. You can’t accommodate all that traffic with a two-lane at-grade crossing. Commercial generates more traffic than industrial.”

Webb said the lack of a north-south road and no direct access to I-95 from Research Forest are drawbacks.

A megasite isn’t one big building, Henry pointed out. BMW in Greer, S.C., just outside of Spartanburg, has a 200-acre test track, for instance, and the largest building on a megasite is 3 million square feet, he said.

Research Forest Tract also was bought as a long-term project, and IDA members also opted to put their emphasis on getting their I-16 holdings ready for prospects.

“We said, ‘we have to acquire something for long-range,’” Henry said. “To understand the importance, this was a long-term play. We acquired 4,400 acres. We knew we weren’t going to be able to develop both as industrial parks at the same time.”