Shifting NC/SC state line could cost some their livelihoods

abeam@thestate.comOctober 30, 2013 

For nearly 20 years, South Carolina and North Carolina officials have been quietly clarifying the boundary between the two states in an amicable process designed to avoid costly taxpayer-funded lawsuits.

But the friendly times could be ending as a handful of property owners grapple with legal issues that they say could close a business, cost thousands of dollars or – in one case – possibly cause a doctor to lose his medical license.

Property owners Tuesday voiced their frustration with the Joint N.C.-S.C. Boundary Commission. Since 1996, the commission meticulously has been re-establishing the original boundary between the states – relying on 280-year-old land surveys that noted, among other things, tree notches, not global positioning system coordinates.

After stops and starts because of varying levels of state funding, officials finally have agreed on where the border is. That is important because a well-defined state border is crucial for economic development, particularly in the booming Charlotte-northern York County area.

But the clarified line – officials are careful not to call it a “new” line since only Congress can redraw state borders – is not where many property owners thought it was, meaning some homes and businesses thought to be in one state actually are in the other.

North Carolina can solve most of its issues administratively. But South Carolina will have to pass several laws to lessen the impact of the changes on property owners.

In January, S.C. lawmakers will consider bills that would:

• Let parents now living in North Carolina continue to send their children to S.C. schools for as long as they own the house that they now live in

• Let S.C. college students now living in North Carolina continue to pay in-state tuition rates

• Determine how to take care of North Carolina state roads now deemed to be in South Carolina

But some issues are too complex for legislative fixes. And while they do not affect many people, those people can complain loudly – possibly killing the entire project.

Lewis Efrid, for instance, owns the Lake Wylie Mini Mart on S.C. 274. For 20 years, the convenience store has turned a profit selling fireworks and beer to North Carolina residents in Gaston County who cross the state line to buy the items – neither of which can be sold in Gaston County.

But the clarified state line shows the Mini Mart is in North Carolina, meaning it would lose 70 percent of its revenue and be forced to close.

J.C. Malpeli owns the Lake Wylie Mobile Home Park. He also owns a small utility company that provides water-and-sewer service to 100 homes in the park. Now, his utility is regulated by the S.C. Public Service Commission. But the clarified border would put at least five parcels in the mobile home park in North Carolina. Dan Ballou, Malpeli’s Rock Hill-based attorney, said that would require Malpeli to spend thousands of dollars to form a separate utility company subject to North Carolina’s laws and regulations.

And there is the case of Fred Berlinger, a 77-year-old doctor in Columbus, N.C. Berlinger runs a small practice out of his home. The clarified line would split his home down the middle. And since he is not licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina, he is afraid he would lose his medical license.

“Why don’t we just put the line where everybody thinks it is?” convenience store owner Efrid asked Tuesday. “Problem solved.”

But Sid Miller of South Carolina, the Boundary Commission’s co-chairman, said everyone has a different idea of where the state line is.

“That sounds like a solution,” he said. “But it’s a bag of worms.”

Efrid and Ballou said they are keeping their options open, including opposing any bill before the Legislature that would adversely affect them. State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, a member of the Boundary Commission, said that opposition is all it would take to get the York County legislative delegation to contest any bill clarifying the state line.

“If it is contested, you can forget it. It is not going to pass,” Hayes said. “All it would take is one citizen saying, ‘It will put me out of business.’”

But other options are not attractive, either.

South Carolina could buy Efrid’s business from him, similar to a condemnation. Or South Carolina could buy the land from North Carolina. But lawyers with the two states’ attorneys general said any change in the state line would require an act of Congress, which could take years.

“If this takes 20 years, that’s fine with me because, when I’m 97, I won’t know what state I’m living in anyway,” Dr. Berlinger said.

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