SELC Seeks Transparency from the North Carolina Railroad Company
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina Railroad Company (“NCRR”) after the railroad refused to produce documents for review under the North Carolina Public Records Act. The suit was filed in Wake County Superior Court and seeks a declaratory judgment that the North Carolina Railroad is subject to the N.C. Public Records Act. The Southern Environmental Law Center has asked that the case be set down for an immediate hearing after any necessary discovery.
One hundred percent of the shares of the North Carolina Railroad Company are owned by the state and people of North Carolina. Each member of the board of directors is appointed by the governor of North Carolina. Any dividends from the railroad must go to the state and upon dissolution all assets would be returned to the state. In addition, the state makes significant capital contributions to the railroad — over $193 million in recent years. And yet, the N.C. Railroad has taken the position that it keep the public wholly in the dark about its inner workings – refusing to provide any documents for public review.
“The North Carolina Railroad is built on state taxpayer funds,” said Kym Hunter, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It spends and invests the people’s funds, it receives debt relief from the state, and pays no income taxes. It does all this purporting to be ‘working for the good of the people of North Carolina.’ It is only right then that the people of North Carolina get some oversight over its actions. All bodies work better when they are transparent and open and the people of North Carolina have a right to see how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, how our state assets are being used, how policy decisions that implicate the future of North Carolina are being made.”
The N.C. Railroads’ lack of transparency is of particular concern as the area now considers a commuter rail between Wake and Durham counties to meet the needs of the Triangle’s booming population and allow future economic growth while minimizing pollution. Recently, the NCRR’s intransigence in negotiations surrounding the Durham-Orange Light Rail project became a key reason that GoTriangle was forced to abandon the long-sought project. In February 2019, NCRR sent a letter to GoTriangle stating that it would not sign off on necessary approvals until several last-minute impossible demands had been met. As a result of this and other complications the light rail project was unable to move forward under the tight deadlines established by the N.C. General Assembly, and was ultimately cancelled.
Seeking to learn more about this decision-making, the Southern Environmental Law Center requested records from NCRR relating to the light rail project. Under North Carolina law private corporations are subject to the North Carolina Public Records Act when they are significantly intertwined with the state. After hiring an attorney to “look into” whether the NCRR was subject to the act, the railroad ultimately took the position that it was not. The Southern Environmental Law Center immediately let the Railroad know that it would be challenging this determination in court and today filed suit.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org