Participants in negotiations to re-establish the border between North Carolina and South Carolina say that the story has been sensationalized and that any notion of a “border war” largely is hyperbole.
Indeed, the owner of a gas station at the state line who has been the focus of media scrutiny would be the only business owner affected by redrawing the boundaries, and he has faith the final result will protect his livelihood.
Alan-Jon Zupan, a project manager for the South Carolina Geological Survey, said he is concerned about how major news outlets are portraying the almost 20-year effort to set straight the 304-mile dividing line between the two states.
“They are turning this into a tabloid story,” he said. “There are no border wars here. That is the furthest thing from the truth. Both [state] agencies agree, and we keep each other informed. We make decisions together. It’s been a good process and there is no headbutting on things. It’s not been a haphazard thing.”
South Carolina Sen. Wes Hayes, a York County Republican and member of the North Carolina/South Carolina Joint Boundary Commission, said talks have been amicable because no one is adding or taking away from the original line. His state has been more than willing to participate and has done much of the work to see it through.
“Pinning it down now so we don’t make mistakes in the future is vital,” he said. “I’m surprised it has gone this long without being pinned down.”
Zupan said the partnership between North Carolina and South Carolina began in 1994, after Duke Energy asked where the boundary line was and nobody knew the answer. Many of the markers, which were placed in trees or set up with stone monuments, inadvertently had been destroyed over the years.
“At the time, neither state took any initiative to re-mark the boundary,” he said. “This made the boundary nebulous, and the perception of where it was changed over time.”
To rectify the situation, a memorandum of understanding was signed by lawmakers from both states to straighten out existing ambiguities. Representatives also created the North Carolina/South Carolina Joint Boundary Commission, made up of representatives from each state.
Zupan said surveyors thoroughly research all the old land records, deeds, and grants to help establish the correct line.
“It took a lot of time and effort,” he said. “The boundary was always there and always true. It was just unknown to people.”
In some instances the chain of records was broken, but Zupan said the surveying team went back as far as it could with the existing historic evidence.
Of the several hundred miles of border, the team has 31 miles left to survey and it hopes to have the work completed by the end of the year. The current price tag for the project is $20 million.
Much of the hoopla began after a survey of a portion of the line running through York County in South Carolina and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. Because of population expansion in recent years, this was one of the border’s most settled regions and has felt the biggest impact. In some places, the line has moved 150 feet to the north.
Troy Kickler, director of the North Carolina History Project for the John Locke Foundation, said he is amazed the boundary line to date has remained so close to the original, since it was established under British rule.
Zupan said the team recently sent notices to 93 homeowners and business owners who were affected by the change.
Hayes said the commission has not forgotten about the affected citizens. He said they are trying to minimize any disruption in education by allowing children to stay in their current school districts.
However, the residents will have to deal with some headaches during the transition time. Addresses, driver’s licenses, voting precincts, utility companies, and service providers might have to be changed.
Hayes was relieved, however, to find out only one business in the area, a gas station, could face serious economic harm from the boundary change.
“We are aware of it,” he said. “We are working on it.”
The owner, Louis Efird, has learned he is a resident of North Carolina. However, when he bought the Lake Wylie Mini Mart in the 1990s, he was assured it was in South Carolina, where there are fewer restrictions and lower taxes, allowing him to sell gas up to 30 cents per gallon cheaper than on the other side of the state line. He also sells fireworks and alcohol, which are not allowed on the North Carolina side of the border.
Efird says he is both “worried” and “terrified” of losing his investment and income. Even so, he has faith that the joint commission will come up with an equitable plan of action.
“They seemed genuinely concerned about the damage it will do,” he said. “The commission seems to want this to be done in a fair way, but they need tools given from both legislatures to deal with it. I applaud them for working through the process in a careful manner.”
Efird said both state legislatures could pass a law protecting the 93 properties affected by the line change.
“They should allow us a one-time election to allow us to vote if we want to stay or if we want to go,” he said. “That gives the commission a way to put it out there and makes everybody happy.”
The one thing Efird doesn’t want to see is his case being tried in the media. He has been upset and frustrated by misquotes in the news. He has granted only one interview: to Carolina Journal.
York County Manager Jim Baker said he is grateful the current readjustment in the boundary won’t have much of an impact on the area’s tax base. He hopes the states will “grandfather” in all pre-existing conditions and hold those affected “harmless.”
The good news, Zupan said, is the new technologies (including GPS) used in the process will ensure that the border never will need to be redrawn again.
Karen Welsh is a contributor to Carolina Journal.