A requirement by Rayonier that Bryan County sign an arbitration clause in order to use county employees to dig dirt from the company’s land rankled members of the Bryan County Board of Commissioners, but in the end the board voted 3-2 to enter into the agreement.
The decision took place after nearly 30 minutes of debate at a Monday night called meeting at the County Administrative Complex in South Bryan.
It also may have illuminated friction in the relationship between the giant paper company, which still owns land where the Belfast Commerce Centre is located, and Bryan County officials, who need about 660 truckloads of dirt to keep a promise made to Caesarstone Technologies to build a road into the industrial park.
“So far we have been very good partners with Caesarstone. I agree our partnership with Rayonier, it could be better,” Bryan County Administrator Ray Pittman said at one point, though he also repeatedly noted the requirement from Rayonier wasn’t unusual.
“It’s just the corporate nature and the legal nature of the world we live in,” he said. “This is a standard practice for Rayonier. It’s standard practice for very large corporations.”
Still, commissioners expressed varying degrees of discomfort over the arbitration clause, which would put any disputes between the county and Rayonier before an arbitration panel in Florida.
The county’s other option is to use dirt from its own borrow pit. Because no money is exchanging hands, the possibility of a dispute between the county and Rayonier is remote, county attorney John Harvey conceded.
Still, Harvey cautioned commissioners against signing the agreement.
“Counties butt heads with big companies over this all the time,” Harvey said. “You talk to county attorneys across the state (and they recommend against it) … we’d give up our right to have any dispute resolved here in front of a Bryan County judge and Bryan County jury.
“I agree (a dispute in this instance) is pretty remote, but what I’m concerned with is we’re going to be doing business with Rayonier in the future and it’s setting a precedent.”
Read more in the Jan. 8 edition of the News.