Mayors from four towns in Berkeley County signed a petition Tuesday saying Trident Health System -- and not rival Roper St. Francis Healthcare -- should be allowed to build a 50-bed hospital in the county, even though the state approved construction of two hospitals.

"Berkeley County cannot support two hospitals," the mayors of Moncks Corner, Bonneau, Jamestown and St. Stephen said in the petition dated Sept. 14. "Neither would have enough patients to be financially stable."

The petition marks an about-face from the mayors' stance two years ago. In a June 2009 letter to the state, the same four mayors asked the state to approve both projects, saying "having one 50-bed hospital in southern Berkeley County and another 50-bed hospital in northern Berkeley County will be the outcome that most benefits all the citizens" of the county. The Goose Creek mayor also had signed that letter.

St. Stephen Mayor Robert Hoffman said he and the three other mayors changed their minds when Trident officials told them they would not build the hospital in Moncks Corner if Roper built its facility in Goose Creek.

"We were fine with both, but when Trident said it would not build because it was too much investment and risk -- well it doesn't take a rocket scientist to decide we want the closer hospital," Hoffman said.

The ongoing legal battle between Trident Health System -- the HCA Inc. chain that includes Moncks Corner, Trident and Summerville medical centers -- and the nonprofit Roper St. Francis Healthcare is scheduled to go to trial in January. The wrangling began with a battle over which system should be allowed to build a new 50-bed hospital in Berkeley County.

Roper plans to build in Goose Creek, while Trident's proposal is farther north, at the site of its existing Moncks Corner facility.

A city clerk for Goose Creek, whose mayor did not sign the petition, said Tuesday the town supports Roper's proposal.

The petition will be forwarded to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which must approve new health care construction.