NC Port Authority, McCrory at odds over CSX rail plan

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A key NC agency throws its support behind the plan to build a massive rail center in Johnston County.

The nearly two-week-long back-and-forth in Johnston County between CSX Railroad and landowners is getting more complicated.

One day after Gov. Pat McCrory told the I-Team that the site selected between Selma and Micro, just off I-95, would no longer be "a viable option," the railroad appears to be pressing forward and has a high profile endorsement from one of McCrory's agencies.

RELATED: Governor's office says current proposed site in Johnston County no longer a viable option.

The North Carolina State Ports Authority Board of Directors passed a resolution of support Wednesday for the project.

According to the Authority's media release, the group "has long advocated for intermodal rail service at the Port of Wilmington and this proposed (facility) would serve as a major transportation hub connecting not just the Port, but North Carolina's businesses into CSX's extensive rail network. (The facility) would provide an estimated 1,500 new jobs statewide, $20 million in savings on state highway maintenance costs, and 717 million fewer truck miles on NC roads, reducing congestion and improving safety."

That doesn't mean much to Trent Lassiter. He owned the event venue "The Farm" in Johnston County, and his land stands to be taken away from him to make room for the rail yard. And it's not just "any 'ol land."

"The farm right to the right is the one that's been in our family since the 1700s," said Lassiter, strolling over green fields.

What Lassiter said he can't figure out is why no one talked to him or his neighbors about selling their land before now.

"I feel like there should have been more communication from day one," Lassiter said. "If this had been talked about a year ago or two years ago, we could have saved a lot of time and a lot of money. Somebody should have come and had the respect to say, 'Here's a map of our project. It's a big project. Really. And we want your land so what's the deal?' Then we would have told them very nicely, 'No.' "

Chris Johnson is Johnston County's Economic Development Director. He was among the first to know about the project last summer but says he was sworn to secrecy through a non-disclosure agreement.

"I just want to make sure we can keep it in the state of North Carolina," he said. "This means so much to an area that has been hit hard with the loss of manufacturing, the loss of textiles, the loss of tobacco. And it means so much for the ports of North Carolina as well as our transportation areas. I don't want that to get lost but unfortunately and rightfully so, you don't want to do that at the expense of citizens who don't want to part with their land."

Lassiter and others whose land is threatened by the current site proposal agrees with Johnson that the project could be a major boon for the state but says it's DOA for him and his neighbors. "The governor coming out is a huge step. Knowing you have the County and State's support means a lot to us and our movement," Lassiter said.

Still, Lassiter wasn't encouraged by the statement CSX put out mid-day Wednesday:

"CSX is committed to this infrastructure project which will create jobs, deliver a distinct competitive advantage for large and small businesses, and spur economic development. We look forward to working with all interested stakeholders to address concerns and move the project forward."

"It was very short and very vague to say the least," Lassiter said of the statement. "It didn't address the situation about what the Governor said and it didn't address the location."

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