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Settle boundary issues between states

November 22, 2013 

  • In summary

    Issues affecting a few people shouldn’t block drawing of official state line.

Clarifying where the state line is that separates North and South Carolina might not end the longstanding dispute about which state President Andrew Jackson was born in. But it’s about time for both states to agree on exactly where the line is and to resolve any legal disputes that might arise as a result.

The two states have been working amicably for nearly 20 years to clarify the boundary. Officials have tried to avoid disputes that might result in costly lawsuits against either state.

But now that much of the state line has been established, the Joint N.C.-S.C. Boundary Commission is running into some thorny issues that might be difficult to settle. For the most part they involve homes or businesses whose owners thought they were on one side of the line, but who actually are in the other state.

North Carolina can solve most of its issues administratively. But South Carolina would have to pass several laws to deal with the problems created by shifting the line.

In January, S.C. lawmakers will consider bills that would address the changes that affect property owners. For example, one bill would let parents who end up living in North Carolina as a result of the clarified state line to continue to send their children to S.C. schools for as long as they own the house they now live in.

Another bill would let S.C. college students who end up living in North Carolina continue to pay in-state tuition rates. And another would have the state assume responsibility for taking care of N.C. state roads that turn out to be in South Carolina.

But those bills wouldn’t take care of all the issues. Lewis Elfrid, for instance, owns the Lake Wylie Mini Mart on S.C. 274. For 20 years, the store has sold fireworks to customers who come across the state line to buy them.

Now, however, it turns out the Lake Wylie Mini Mart really is in North Carolina. But if the store has to comply with N.C. laws, which forbid fireworks sales, there goes most of Elfrid’s business.

Rerouting the state line is not a viable option. It would require an act of Congress, which could take years.

And simply ignoring the concerns of property owners caught up in this process isn’t an option, either. A number of S.C. state lawmakers have threatened to contest the boundary agreement if it threatens the livelihood of any S.C. business owners.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, who is a member of the Boundary Commission, said that opposition is all it would take to get the York County delegation to contest any bill clarifying the state line.

This shouldn’t be so complicated. Surely lawmakers from both states could come up with options to either grandfather businesses in to their current status for a reasonable length of time or offer to buy them out. And any homeowners could continue to live under the regulations they do now until they sell their homes.

Establishing a well-defined state line is crucial for economic development, especially for York County and other areas adjacent to the line. If the states can’t officially designate the boundary, more disputes could develop in the future.

The S.C. Legislature might have to allocate money to help defray costs to business owners or homeowners who straddle the line or who find themselves now living in North Carolina. But the cost would be relatively negligible, especially if it helps ward off future lawsuits.

Land surveyors didn’t have GPS devices when they drew the state line nearly 300 years ago. The Boundary Commission is relying on yellowing paper records to clarify the line.

Once it is established, though, the line would be identifiable by modern means, and it would be permanent and indisputable. Lawmakers from both states need to find ways to resolve the problems of those inadvertently affected by the process and ensure that the job is finished.

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