Following a 55 minute closed session Wednesday night, Johnston County Commissioners emerged and went on record in opposition of a CSX terminal at its present location between Selma and Micro.
The meeting came just 6 days after CSX announced they were planning to build a major regional transportation hub on a 450-acre tract of land that would create 250 to 300 short-term construction jobs, and 300 permanent jobs with an average salary of $60,000 once the facility opened in 2019. Statewide, an estimated 1,500 jobs would be created.
Commissioners eagerly endorsed the project Jan. 14th when the announcement was made, but Wednesday night withdrew their support for the project known as CCX, or the Carolina Connector, at its present location.
“The Johnston County Board of Commissioners does not support plans for CCX at the footprint the project’s advocates had envisioned,” Commissioner Chairman Tony Braswell of Pine Level read in a statement following the closed session. “The Board continues to believe that CCX represents economic development opportunities for Eastern North Carolina, including Johnston County, and hopes that alternative sites can be identified that reconciles the project’s location needs with the desires of property owners that are willing to sell their land.”
Braswell said the Board does not support imminent domain and the taking of private property by CSX. Braswell said he was “disappointed and appalled” by reports of how CSX representatives had approached property owners.
Braswell said the Board of Commissioners had been transparent with the public during the entire process and for the first time said the board did not know about the project until December. WTSB News had reported economic development officials in the county had knowledge about the project as early as the spring of 2015.
Opposition to the terminal began to mount as soon as property owners, including Trent Lassiter, general manager of The Farm, an entertainment venue near Micro, learned his family farm and his business could be taken involuntarily. Lassiter said property owners were told they could willingly sell their land or be taken to court and their property taken by railroad officials.
Lassiter, his family, and neighbors were among over 60 people who attended the special meeting at the Johnston County Courthouse.
After the commissioners announcement Lassiter said, “It’s not enough but it’s a good first step. By them not supporting the project it sends out a loud message but it doesn’t mean that it’s enough to stop it, but it’s a move in the right direction.”
While county leaders said they did not support the CSX terminal at the site selected, Chairman Braswell said the Board believes a site could still be identified where property owners would be willing to sell their land, but added the Board does not want communities to be uprooted.
“We work hard for economic development but not for citizens and communities where they do not want it,” Braswell said. “We are not going to do it at the expense of citizens we represent.”
As the meeting ended, the audience broke out in applause. Commissioners spent several minutes mingling with residents.
Several uniformed and plainclothes deputies present at the meeting providing security but no problems were reported.
Wednesday night on social media the majority of people supported the county’s decision but others did not. Some were in favor of CSX bringing jobs to the community.
One post read: “I for one support the CSX. Will bring jobs to a part of the county that needs jobs. Hate to see someone lose their land but if it’s for the greater good of the county I think it will be worth it to lose a place like the farm.”
Another post read: “First, I understand families want to keep their farm(s) and not sell to a corporation. I’m from a small town, however my thoughts and opinions on growth are different than most from a small community. I support growth, expansion, opportunity, jobs and overall change. Finally, on the positive side – buy more land and another farm.”
Finally, “There’s always more than one side of the story. More than 300 permanent jobs averaging more than $60,000 salary. Bring it on.”