Settlement being negotiated in closing of Lewis Drive

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By Stan Welch

Tuesday night’s Anderson County Council meeting marked a rather unhappy anniversary for some, namely that of the awarding of former county administrator Joey Preston with a $1.2 million severance package exactly six years earlier. That action, which has resulted in years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses, was the most significant action taken by the 2008 County Council, but it was certainly not the only one that resulted in a long drawn out legal battle.

On the anniversary of one momentous act by the Council, a much different Council voted to accept a settlement of a case that has lasted even longer. The closing of Lewis Drive in the Cheddar community in 2008 was bitterly opposed by the area’s residents, who argued that access to the area by emergency responders, as well as school buses, would be impacted.

The local residents were already up in arms about the construction of an ethanol blending facility near the crossing, and by the Greenville & Western railroad’s plans to transport tanker cars of the volatile fuel into and out of the area. In August of 2007, approximately 39 acres of land was rezoned to allow for the construction of the ethanol facility.

A request by the railroad to close the Lewis Drive crossing followed soon after. The County Council, encouraged by Councilman Bill McAbee, approved a resolution stating that they did NOT oppose the closing. That was as far as they could go, since the courts are the only ones who can actually order the closing.

G&WRR, however, chose not to pursue the actual judicial closing, and proceeded to block the crossing with an earthen berm. Area residents hired a lawyer and the case went to court.

Tuesday night, following an executive session to receive legal advice, the council voted to approve a proposed settlement of the case.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the railroad is in agreement, having negotiated a significantly reduced amount; while the County actually sweetened the pot just a little, citing the alleged issues with the way the original vote by Council was handled.

The area residents, who are represented by Anderson attorney Curt Gibson, must now decide whether to accept the settlement or not.

In other business, Council gave second reading approval to an ordinance amending the agreement for the development of a joint industrial and business park in Anderson and Greenville counties.

Economic Development Director Burriss Nelson explained that the result would be a tweaking of the legal language involved in order to accommodate Duke Energy and its proposed $600 million upgrade of the Lee Steam Plant, located in Williamston.