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City Council Meeting October 12

City gets $2m in settlement with Federal Government
Marc Knapp who covers City Council

Held at the Trident Technical College, the council meeting last night was uneventful. There was the usual array of zoning changes and housekeeping matters. But it was nice to know that the City settled a suit with the US government and will be receiving a net $2 million. The suit began in 1994 and was over claims of pollution at the site of naval yard on which now stands the aquarium and surrounding buildings. The site, used as a naval base during World War II and afterwards other industry, was polluted. It was subsequently leased by SCE&G who in turn turned it over to the City for the aquarium and other buildings. A previous deal between the City and SCE&G in which the City received $26 million absolved SCE&G from any further liability. This latest settlement will now absolve the US government of any further liability.

Mayor Riley stated that the proceeds would remain earmarked for use in this part of the City; Councilmember Fishburne also cautioned that the funds should be retained for any contingency in the area.

We wonder why the funds are going towards to reduction of the debt related to the aquarium. After all a lot of City money went to clean-up at the time of construction. Maybe Councilmember Fishburne remembers the costly construction and cleanup and wants to be sure that the money does not disappear into a City sinkhole.

The Mayor also said that the suit against the US government was taken by the firm of Arent Fox on a contingency basis. He justified this by stating that the cost of litigation was high and the outcome uncertain so a contingency basis seemed best. The law firm received $500,000 for its effort; an amount the firm said barely covered costs. The firm also noted that it had to retain experts to make its case.

Sidewalk Dining ordinance passes second reading
The Sidewalk Dining ordinance passed its second reading as expected. But Councilmember Fishburne again opposed it. He believed that the City was more than adequately covered presently with outside dining opportunities. He also thought that the rentals that were to be charged by the City were too low. Restaurant owners whose properties enjoyed wide sidewalks had an unfair advantage under the new ordinance, he said.

Councilmember George voted for the ordinance but agreed with Councilmember Fishburne that the rates were too low. In the Way and Means session, he said that there should be a uniform fee of $9 a square foot per year. This compares with the fees proposed by the City of $9 a square foot for the Peninsula, $6 a square foot for Daniel Island and $3 a square foot for West of the Ashley. There were also remarks as to whether different fees were lawful.

Looking for more funds for Upper King Street area
The Mayor also reported that the City was retaining a specialist law firm to help it obtain a grant of around $1.25 million to spend on infrastructure in the Upper King, Spring and Cannon Street area. It seems the City was approached by the firm, Preston Gates and Ellis who offered to make the application for a fee of $80,000, payable only if the request were successful. The grant, if made, would come from the Transportation Bill to be discussed in Congress.

Again questioned by Councilmember George, the Mayor said if the funds were obtained, they would be spent only on infrastructure - roads, sidewalks and not buildings.