The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
County Council February 16,
"We ain't goin' to shuffle no mo'"
Opposition to access roads and portWarwick Jones
The highlight of yesterday's special meeting of the Finance Committee was Council member Darby's emotional speech opposing the proposed container port in North Charleston and any of the access roads. His opposition reflected the attitude of his constituents and the fears of the very adverse impact that the port and roads would have on the surrounding neighborhoods. He noted that too often poor and African American neighborhoods bore the brunt of development. It was going to happen again with the port development. It was time to make a stand. Affecting a Gullah dialect, "we ain't going to shuffle no mo', he said.
Presentations were not very reassuring
The speech was made after presentations by representatives of the SC Department of Transport (DOT), the Army Corp of Engineers and the Ports Authority (SPA). The representatives were attending the special meeting called by Council in the wake of concerns expressed by some Council members about the proposed port and access roads. Despite the expressions of goodwill and intent by the DOT, and the extension of the period for public hearings, we are not sure the Council was convinced that the surrounding communities would be unaffected or the adverse impact fully mitigated. The representative of the DOT promised fair compensation but as Council members Pryor and Inabinett said, this may not be enough. If fair compensation were only the market value of property, then residents would be hurt. Values were not high in the affected areas and it may be difficult or impossible to buy something comparable anywhere close to where they presently live. There were also costs in relocation. And considering that many residents of the areas were seniors who had spent all their lives in the area, this disruption was very emotional. Most folk had no desire to move.
Council member Darby will oppose port
Council member Darby clearly was unmoved by the expressions of the DOT. He vowed that he would fight the proposed port and its access roads. He personally would contribute money to the cause and employ what legal means necessary even if it meant appealing to the Department of Justice. And we, who know the Council member, know that he means it.
Who will pick up the gauntlet?
But although Council member Darby has thrown down the gauntlet, will anybody pick it up outside a Federal Court? There is no doubt that some of the Council members support Council member Darby even to opposing the Port. We feel confident that the majority would support efforts for full and fair compensation and mitigation in relation to the access roads. But would there be a majority to oppose the port itself? And even if there were a majority, would it make a difference?
The State Government decided the location of the proposed port. County Council's view is not irrelevant but may go unheeded. And indeed, there may be some price to pay if Council were to vigorously oppose the Port. After all, the County does draw on the State for funding for some of its programs. And the State may well argue that a new Port is necessary. Where else would Council suggest we put it?
What are the alternatives?
This question was not addressed at yesterday's meeting but it was addressed in the Corp of Engineers Study. The alternative sites can be seen Download file
The alternative sites were on Daniel Island, and on Clouter Island, the other side of the Cooper River, upstream from the proposed site in North Charleston. We respect the Corps assessment that the North Charleston site was the best and that its decision was devoid of political influence. Maybe the environmental and community impact on Daniel Island was seen to be greater than elsewhere and the Clouter Island site too limiting for maneuvering container ships. But one can't help sympathizing with Council member Darby and others who feel that Daniel Island was rejected, at least in part, because it was an affluent white community with strong political affiliations. And if one looks at the site considered on Daniel Island, it is clear that it is some distance from that part of the Island that is developed. However, the access roads would have impacted residents, particularly in the Cainhoy community, again largely composed of African Americans.
Council member Darby may oppose the port in North Charleston but he is not suggesting it be placed on Daniel Island. In fact he has not expressed a view as to it location. But is seems to us that if the port is not built in North Charleston, it should not be built in Charleston at all. Maybe Savannah would be a better location? After all, the City seems desirous of expanding its port facilities. But allowing Georgia to capture container trade at the expense of South Carolina may not be acceptable to Columbia.
We have not dwelt on the speeches made yesterday by representatives of the DOT and SPA. Nothing about the port project was revealed that had not been available at the public hearings in recent weeks. Essentially, the State authorities promised every consideration and a willingness to listen to the publics' views. But beyond the possibility of some minor changes on routing access roads, we expect nothing much else will change.
Sidewalk for Hungry Neck Boulevard part of a broader issueThere were some other issues before the Finance Committee last night that generated some heat. In particular was the request by the Town of Mount Pleasant for an easement and the purchase of a Right of Way along Phase 3 of Hungry Neck Boulevard. This request seemed innocuous enough but Council remained deadlocked for a period as to what it should do. Very simply, the County owns land on one side of this part of the road and the town wants a small amount to create a sidewalk. A sidewalk would then exist on both sides of the road.
Nobody had a gripe with this "per se", but it was what followed in Phase 4 that was concerning, and whether a favorable decision by the Council in effect represented an endorsement of the whole road.
Causing the division of Council was the belief by some members that the Hungry Neck Boulevard project was going to run through and split an African American community and that in the longer term, could be developed into a major and disruptive road. The representatives of the town said that Phase 3 was underway, there would be no impact on any community, and it would be completed regardless of any decision on the request before Council. However, they conceded that Phase 4 of the project was more problematical and the town had set in motion plans to engage the community as to the impact and mitigation.
Council voting on two separate motions was not able to get a majority to agree or reject the motion. At the urging of Council member Bostic, a meeting will be arranged 'twixt representatives of the County and the Town to attempt to define some agreement for proceeding.
A community impact study on extending I 526. But why now?Council also approved the retention of Greenways Inc., the greenbelt consulatant, to undertake a "community impact assessment, including socio-economic impacts, for the extension of Interstate 526 from its southern terminus with Savannah Highway to the James Island Connector". Council approved the contract that was for an amount of $65,000. The funds were to be drawn from the Greenbelt portion of the Sales tax.
Wait a minute! Hasn't the Council asked the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to fund this road project? And now we are studying the likely impact of the road on the community. Shouldn't the study have been performed before a commitment to the new road is made? Applying for total funding of the road to the SIB seems like a strong commitment to proceeding in our view. So why the Community Impact Assessment? If there is an adverse report, will Council halt planned construction? Or are we missing something?