Railroad settlement boosts closure effort

Stephen Felker Jr.: Former manager of corporate development at Avondale Mills says he is saddened by the loss of the mills.

AIKEN --- After shutting down the historic textile mill in Graniteville two years ago, Stephen Felker Jr. is still wrapping up the final affairs of Avondale Mills.


But one part of his struggles is over.

Norfolk Southern recently settled a $425 million lawsuit filed by Avondale Mills and the plant's insurance company in federal court.

The terms of the settlement are confidential.

Mr. Felker, whose family owned the company where he served as the manager of corporate development, said he could not comment on the settlement until details were finalized.

He said Avondale Mills is still selling off its remaining real estate holdings.

"It's something that's slowly coming to a close," he said.

Mr. Felker said he was disappointed it took three years to conclude the legal challenge considering that, "Norfolk Southern admitted fault from the beginning."

The railroad argued in federal court that Avondale Mills was already losing business because of foreign competition at the time the train accident disrupted its business.

Mr. Felker acknowledged the competitive issues, but said, "it was not a challenge we were not going to be able to overcome."

He said he is saddened by the loss of the mills that had been running in Graniteville for decades.

"It'll never be replaced," Mr. Felker said. "It's really left a hole in my heart, and in others' ... I miss working with the people. I loved getting out into the plants."

What is he going to do now?

"I do not personally know where all this is going to take me," he said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com