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State to Pay $3mil for Rail Spur to Former Inland Port, Now the Intermodal Mega Site: Maybe 

Columbia County, FL – Thursday's special meeting of the County 5 kicked off with Chairman Tim Murphy telling the County 5, "It looks like we're gonna' have a long lastin' meeting here. Hopefully we get somethin' accomplished." The first item on the agenda was the discussion and vote to approve a Department of Economic Opportunity Grant to build a rail spur through the forest to the old Inland Port and not one inch farther.

Rail Spur

Talk about the rail spur at the Inland Port, now the mega site, began in 2008-09. Ten years later it is being built.

Highly regarded, Allison Megrath was the face of Plum Creek's Inland Port site for almost a decade. She was cast aside when Weyerhaeuser took over the project.

Thursday evening The 5 met to discuss approval of a Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Grant to build a rail spur through the forest from the CSX rail to the formerly Plum Creek Inland Port, to now the North Florida Mega Industrial Park. The project included a Hwy. 90 crossing.

The rail will not go into the park, but right to the front door. Any other future rail construction will be in the privately owned industrial park.

The estimated cost of the rail spur construction is $3,135,600. This is funded by a grant for that amount.

In return for the grant, Columbia County is required to complete the project in five years.

In order to be reimbursed, the County must create a Return on Investment (ROI). The ROI is $30,000,000 in private investment and the creation of 325 jobs.

If the County fails to meet the ROI, the Department of Economic Opportunity may request partial or full repayment of the grant funds, including interest.

Once the rail spur is completed the estimated cost to build additional track in the privately owned mega site is $1,000,000 a mile. If not paid for by the owners or developers or if not funded by state grants, this will fall on the backs of Columbia County taxpayers in the form of County paid incentives and tax abatements.

The rail spur is expected to be completed in 5 years in earth time. It is not clear how long this may take in Columbia County time.

The Presentation
Economic Development Director Hunter Shunned

The Inland Port/Mega Intermodal Site is in the woods. Not much has changed since the original concept.

Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter makes $86k a year. Add his benefits and the total approaches $119k of taxpayer funding.

In most civilized counties and cities, Department Directors make presentations which concern their departments regarding grants, extra ordinary budget items and other important department events which affect municipal business.

For 30 plus years, former County Manager Dale Williams pushed his department directors aside and made most, if not all presentations to the County 5.

The Inland Port 8 years ago. See more here: Columbia County's inland port decades late...

His handpicked successor, Ben Scott, has carried on that Neanderthal procedure with all department heads, except Public Works Director Kevin Kirby.

Mr. Hunter sat by the wayside as Mr. Scott explained the grant.

Mr. Scott explained that the maintenance of the County portion of the track will cost approximately $37k a year.

According to Mr. Scott, the grant spelled out Econ Development Director Hunter would be responsible for facilitating the grant.

Commissioner DePratter said he thought it should be County Manager Scott.

Mr. Scott said that would be fine with him.

The Board Parliamentarian, County Attorney Foreman asked for Commissioner Williams to amend his motion to accept the grant. No one stated the amended motion. The Clerk did not read the amended motion. Mr. Foreman sat by without comment. Econ Development Director Hunter was out, the County Manager was in.

Commissioner Everett Phillips Speaks

Commissioner Phillips asked, "The question I have for Glenn [Hunter]: 'Do you foresee anything down the pipeline that may –unintelligible- this away to go in our rail spur? ... Did you have anything in focus at this time?'"

Hunter Responds

Mr. Hunter came to the microphone and answered: "Mr. Phillips, this is a vital tool for us to utilize for this project. We're constantly in discussion with clients that are looking at this site and the rail spur has always been an issue... This will be very significant to us when this is in place... Once this is done, we will truly be shovel-ready... There are a lot of these projects that are kicking around... There is a lot of activity going on right now... There is a lot of international interest...

County Attorney Foreman added that he thought Commissioner Phillips' concern was that the county could be "on the hook" if nothing developed after the spur was completed.

Commissioner Phillips added, "I know he has a lot more sight that we do."

Attorney Foreman added, "The way this agreement's structured, and I had to go back and look at it, this is only reimbursement, so if nothing ever materialized and the County never turned a shovel of dirt, this agreement is just a few pieces of paper."

Mr. Hunter followed up, "Our site connecting team is very excited about this."

Chairman Murphy: Covering the bet

Commissioner Murphy said, "We'll do our diligence to year end monies to set aside – somewhere around two-three hundred thousand dollars a year, in the event that something did happen, at least we'd have the money if you had to do a total reimbursement."

County Manager Scott explained that the County would have to lay out the money to pay for the project in 10% increments and then would be reimbursed by the state. In effect, the County will be lending itself money until the funds are reimbursed.

Accepting the grant money was unanimously approved by the County 5.


Experienced economic development folks will tell you that in the world of economic development, inquiries are being made all the time and "inquiries do not projects make."

The mega site has been around since 2009. (see: Columbia County Economic Development Blowin' in the wind - 20 years too late. Other than the chatter, there has been no development.

In 2011, Plum Creek's Allison McGrath told folks to keep their fingers crossed regarding a $190 mil in projects coming to the mega site. (see: Plum Creek on the move in Columbia County $190 million,  75 long term jobs on the docket)

Crossing fingers didn't work.

Columbia County continues with a subpar school district, no work force development, no industrial development, and no attractions other than nature's springs, Lake City's world class selection of varieties of fast food chicken wings, and car dealerships.

South Carolina, Georgia, and places in Florida and out of North Central Florida have more to offer.

Economic development takes more than just "crossing fingers."

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