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State line switch could impact S.C. businesses

B.E. Hawkins knows what he’ll do if the state line moves Lake Wylie Mini Mart from South Carolina into North Carolina. He’ll stay home.

“It’ll put this place out of business,” the Gastonia resident said.

Hawkins drives from his home near Gastonia Municipal Airport to the gas station on S.C. 274, near a highway sign marking the state line, to save 30 to 50 cents per gallon. But a redrawing of the state line would put the store in North Carolina, taking away its lower fuel prices, alcohol and firework sales, and customers like Hawkins.

“I buy every drop I buy right here,” he said.

Help could be coming. Legislation is expected to be submitted in January to determine what relief state switchers might get for their move. Since surveyors in both Carolinas nailed down a state line last year, dozens of homeowners and businesses have been waiting to find out how they may be impacted by swapping states. The settling of a state line concludes decades of work, centuries after the first lines were marked on trees and stones.

“They’re not drawing a new state line,” said Emory Smith, deputy solicitor general in South Carolina. “They’re clarifying where the original lines were.”

The impacts

Gary Thompson, co-chairman of the North Carolina-South Carolina Joint Boundary Commission, said mostly homeowners will be impacted by the new line.

“The majority is residents,” Thompson said. “The convenience store was one business. There are homes where the line will change their jurisdiction. There are some homes where the boundary runs through the homes.”

The boundary commission consists of five North Carolina members, and seven from South Carolina. The group last met in February with plans to propose legislation in both states to help property owners new to either state. The legislation also would formalize the state line.

Smith said both states are working together on legislation to eliminate back taxes because of the switch, to keep children in their current school district and eligible for in-state college tuition rates, maintain state services and maintain real estate documents including foreclosures.

“The legislation is designed in both states so people are treated similarly no matter what state they find themselves in,” Smith said.

Some issues are written into proposals, like a 10-year eligibility for in-state college tuition. Others, like which state properties bisected by the line must call home, aren’t.

“I don’t know that that has been decided yet,” Smith said.

John Malpeli owns Lake Wylie Mobile Home Community and a utility serving the area with water and sewer. His sales center sits on Stateline Road near the Mini Mart and The Refuge church. Right now his businesses have South Carolina addresses.

Malpeli said becoming a North Carolina business will have “a horrendous impact.”

“I’ve got a utility here, and I’m going to have to deal with two states, health departments, regulations,” he said. “The department of revenue won’t even quote me on what it’s going to cost.”

Malpeli has been in the area 30 years. The state line clarification originally was going to impact five double-wide units, but now it may be 10 or 12. It also was going to cut straight through his sales center. He doesn’t know the impact because the commission doesn’t either.

“This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” Malpeli said. “Once it’s written, I’m in trouble.”

Marking timeline

The state line arrived at last year and awaiting formal approval isn’t a new line. It’s an effort to use the original state line that was marked on trees and rocks dating to 1735. Geodetic survey departments in both states signed an agreement in 1993 to re-establish the 334-mile boundary. Work began in 1995 and ended May 2013, including everything from recovering scrolls and legal artifacts to sending divers into Lake Wylie looking for markers.

South Carolina entered the agreement hoping to avoid what happened between the state and Georgia on the Savannah River Basin. South Carolina spent $10 million and 26 years of litigation and negotiation to resolve 25 miles of boundary there, involving the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress. By using the original Carolinas boundary, no new line is needed that would require an act of Congress.

The joint commission will meet again in late October or early November, Thompson said, to iron out legislative proposals. South Carolina will host a public meeting, likely in Rock Hill, but no date has been set.

The commission is eager to get state approval of its work and conditions to help property owners impacted by the change. State lines will be marked in official coordinates rather than trees this time. However, there will be physical markers.

“There will be monuments set,” Thompson said.

Decades spent to bring back nearly 300-year-old surveys took effort, but the commission isn’t faulting its predecessors. If they could have logged coordinates in a computer rather than marking coordinates on a log, they would have.

“They did a great job with the tools they had at the time,” Thompson said.