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County Council November 10

Impact of Container Port Road to be scrutinized
Conservation League skeptical of Environmental Impact Study
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

Issues relating to the access road from I-26 to the proposed container port in North Charleston received the most attention at last night's Finance Committee meeting. These issues have been around for some weeks and flowed from the decision to seek funding from the State Infrastructure Bank for the access road as well as the completion of I- 526. At earlier meetings of the Finance Committee and Council, Council members Darby and Pryor in particular expressed strong concern as to the fate of the communities through which the proposed road could pass. Council subsequently asked the Transportation Consultant to evaluate the impact of the road and "encouraged" the SC Department of Transportation to do the same.

The Finance Committee last night heard a response by the Consultant and presentation by Mr. Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League. The consultant suggested that the County summarize the Draft Environment Impact Study Statement (DEIS) prepared by the US Corp of Engineers. This study related to the proposed Container Terminal and was published only last month. The Consultant estimated the cost of the summary would be no more than $12,000. However, if the County wished to move beyond this, a full Community Impact Assessment of the proposed road would be possible but would cost an estimated $150,000 to $200,000.

League is critical
Mr. Beach's presentation was a summary of the League's views on the DEIS. They were not very complimentary and he suggested that Council move to a full study. His points were:

• The transportation model employed in the DEIS omits or understates the traffic volumes associated with major new developments in the immediate area. These developments include Ashley River Center and Magnolia with 37,000 and 40,000 trips a day respectively. There are also the Clemson University, Noisette, and Kinder Morgan projects on the drawing board which will make sizable contributions to traffic volumes.

• The DEIS concludes that at least 11 major intersections will be adversely affected by the new terminal. Some will experience reductions in Levels of Service from A (no congestion) to F (gridlock). It is asserted that the proposed port access road will resolve these problems but the document includes no analysis to substantiate the claim.

• The DIES describes 5 alternatives for the road but provided incomplete descriptions of each.

• The Port access road eliminates existing access points from Interstate 26 into the communities in this area, creating inconveniences for residents and causing conflicts between container trucks and neighborhoods.

• The DIES doe not adequately analyze the impact of the terminal on rail crossings in the area nor does it propose measures to reduce the impact.

• The DIES does not adequately analyze the impact of additional air emissions from ships and trucks on local residents, nor does it propose measures to reduce the impact.

• The DEIS does not adequately analyze additional noise generated by the terminal nor does it propose ways to mitigate thee impact

Recommendation of the League
Mr. Beach prepared a resolution for the Council which contained all of these points and the following recommendation:

• Council objects to the issuance of any permits for the proposed port terminal unless and until the deficiencies in the DEIS have been corrected.

• Council objects to the issuance of any permits without binding condition that the terminal may not begin operation until all impacts from the facility on the surrounding neighborhoods including traffic congestion, air pollution, noise and other impacts have been mitigated using the best available planning techniques and best available technology.

• Council recommends that a comprehensive multi modal transportation study of the primary terminal impact area from the Mark Clark Expressway on the north to Mt. Pleasant St. on the south be conducted, that the study examine existing and potential primary and secondary neighborhood roads, existing and potential cargo lines, the potential for commuter train and major land use changes and that additional study of key intersection and rail crossings north of the Mark Clark Expressway in the City of North Charleston is also conducted.

Committee adopts League recommendations
The Committee adopted the recommendations. On Tuesday, Council most likely will adopt all of the resolution proposed by Mr. Beach and which contains his criticism of the DEIS. A number of Council members had not reviewed the DEIS and wanted to study it before adding their voice to the criticism.

Council also discussed the retention of a consultant to perform the summary evaluation of the DEIS. Council member Darby hoped that minority owned firms be amongst those considered. Council asked the Transportation Consultant be asked to about prospective firms.

Some other items
There were a few other items from last night's meeting worth noting:

• Diversity has been a subject much discussed in recent weeks. At the beginning of this year, 8% of staff enjoyed salaries of $50,000 or more. Of this number, 8.2% were minorities. At September 30, 10% of staff enjoyed salaries of $50,000 or more. Of this number, 11.4% were minorities. The Committee did not pat itself on the back for achieving its target of 10% minority participation. Council members spoke instead of raising the target further and mentioned LPA's target of 17.5%.

• Fringe benefits sock Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) costs. The supporting documents to a proposed though not related transfer showed a 17.1% increase in salaries and wages from last year's $4.44 million. This was a sizeable increase considering that the PRC expects to add only 3 full time employees (FTE) to its 86 positions. We looked at the notes for the explanation. It was a 3.3 % cost of living adjustment (COLA), half year funding for the 3 FTEs, and higher fringe benefits. Our math suggests that it was the last item that caused the damage. The FTE expense probably accounts for about 2% of the increase and the COLA, of course, 3.3%, leaving about 12% for the fringe benefits. We would like to know why there is such an increase. Maybe it is a much higher cost of medical insurance. If it is, does it portend a similar large jump for the County?