- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

BEAUFORT, S.C. (AP) - A group of local businesspeople is suing the South Carolina Ports Authority claiming the agency has mismanaged the sale of its old Port Royal property.

The Beaufort Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/1tujQln ) that the 317-acre property that was once the site of a small port has been vacant for a decade and three attempts to sell it since 2006 have fallen through.

The lawsuit alleges Beaufort County and the town of Port Royal have lost more than $7 million in property taxes while the land remains in state hands. The lawsuit also says the failure to sell the property has hurt the town’s economy.

Ports authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand says the claim has no merit. She says the matter has been referred to attorneys and the agency will not comment further on the lawsuit.

The suit was filed last week by Nancy Vista, who owns a clothing and gift store, Elizabeth Jenkins, who ran a cooking school, and developer Dick Stewart.

They allege the authority has mismanaged the sale and failed to follow what is called the “prudent-man rule.” That’s a concept in common law requiring that trustees, such as a state agency, manage their assets as a thrifty person would.

The newspaper reports that Stewart is one of four bidders known to have made an offer for all or part of the property. He and representatives of two other groups say the authority has withheld pertinent information, including the appraisal value.

Stewart said he sued because he has been frustrated by his interactions with the authority and disheartened watching the business struggles of his friends Vista and Jenkins.

“The Ports Authority needs to sell this property and get the heck out of Port Royal,” Stewart said.

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Information from: The Beaufort Gazette, http://www.beaufortgazette.com

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