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IDA rejects amendment to Master Development Plan for industrial hub

SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) is eager to see a return on an investment that is extremely significant to the county’s future.

The Savannah Gateway Industrial Hub, a joint IDA venture with OmniTRAX Inc. that started in 2016, has yet to yield economic fruit. The hub is a 2,700-acre, rail-served site on McCall Road near Rincon that OmniTRAX will manage and develop.

During a workshop before Thursday’s IDA regular meeting, OmniTRAX officials recommended that its obligation to widen McCall Road be removed from the Master Development Plan (MDA) for the hub. According to the MDA, the widening is supposed to start in September.

OmniTRAX listed three reasons for delaying the McCall Road improvements in a “Summary of Current Status.” It states:

— “School starts in September and that is a terrible time to start a road project near a school.”

— “The road-widening project is on ‘offsite’ project that is of little value to SGIH at this point in time given the low current demand for increased truck traffic. The road-widening project may or may not ever be necessary.”

— “The widening will require utilizing land within the road right of way that will reduce residents’ driveways and front yards. This may be controversial and will need to be explained to the community as to why it is necessary now.”

During the regular meeting, the IDA rejected an amendment to the MDA. The amendment called for the widening of McCall Road to be delayed until June 2019.

Some IDA members expressed a willingness to give OmniTRAX more time to start the road work but deemed 11 months unacceptable. They want the project to begin in the next two or three months.

Even though the hub was Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development (GRAD) certified early this year, OmniTRAX has been unable to land the first tenant for the site.

During its presentation, OmniTRAX said it will continue to aggressively market the hub to all prospects and “stands ready to provide additional capital and improvements as user demand materializes to facilitate the development and buildout of SGIH.”

OmniTRAX's capital investments are to include a CSX railroad flyover and railroad improvements.

Additional MDA amendments are expected to be proposed in the coming months.  Jacob Lang, Springfield's IDA member, would like to have the entire agreement reworked. He was not an IDA member when the MDA was approved.

“It needs to be tightened up and made more equitable,” he said. “We gave (OmniTRAX) the reins to perform and they are not performing.”

The MDA is structured so that the IDA receives cost recovery, does not have to spend additional funds for infrastructure provision and receives a profit share after investment costs have been returned.

Lang said OmniTRAX has invested approximately $2 million on the hub to date. Effingham County taxpayers, meanwhile, have paid more than $5 million in interest on the loans associated with the property formerly known as the Research Forest Tract, he explained.