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To Conspire: "To act in harmony toward a common end"
Lee Walton

I beg to differ with Ron Brinson's commentary in Sunday's Palter & Chatter in which he took the State Ports Authority's spokesman to the woodshed for his recent comments about questionable actions by a deal-estate developer and local conservation group to stall permitting of the SPA's future North Charleston Container Terminal. Bryon Miller was correct with his recent choice of words in describing his agency's latest sandbagging as "environmentalist and a corporation conspiring against the port".

I also differ with Brinson's contention that the public relations process " requires the SPA to always be on the defensive" To the contrary, the SPA's intensions and actions should be bold and unambiguous, albeit fair to all stakeholders in this critical decision that will affect the future economic viability and competitiveness of the Port of Charleston, the Lowcountry and the entire State of South Carolina. Brinson's own closing remarks sum up the precarious position now facing the Ports Authority "In the marketplace, it is years behind in the development needed to protect its market positions, the very positions that create a broad matrix of economic benefits for South Carolina."

So just how broad is this conspiracy that the SPA's Bryan Miller describes? Who are other likely conspirators, and what are the underlying motivations behind their actions? In the Acropolis once known as Charleston, this conspiracy's genesis lies in the insatiable lust of Mayor J. Pericles Riley for more deal-estate development and the resulting increases in tax revenue that follow. The City's recent overt, hostile zoning changes to eliminate industrial zonings and height restrictions incompatible with commercial and residential redevelopment in the Neck were simply another step in Pericles' Grand Plan to build his Athens of the South on the Peninsula. Gentrification can take many forms, and this most recent configuration was targeted to eliminate the very industries that made Charleston one of our Nation's leading ports for over three centuries.

For almost two years, the City's much-touted Neck redevelopment plans have included the rerouting of I-26 eastward toward Meeting Street Extension in order to eliminate this inconvenient divide of what is desired as a contiguous redevelopment area unencumbered by the adverse impacts of a major arterial expressway. The City's plans for the Neck currently include over 4,800 residential units with an additional 1,100,000 square feet of office and retail development. As a comparison, this potential redevelopment is larger than all development on Daniel Island to date. With such grandiose plans and several eager deal-estate developers tapped by Pericles to do his bidding (while earning a hansom profit for themselves), it's no wonder that the Ports Authority feels threatened.

As for the other strange bedfellows in this conspiracy, one needs to look no further than the owners and editors of the Palter & Chatter and the Coastal Conservation League. Strangely, opposition to the proposed I-526 across Johns Island and development precipitated by its completion also appears to be linked to the desired relocation of I-26 in the Neck. One must wonder, is it more development on Johns Island or development competition for the proposed Neck redevelopment that the conspirators oppose?

Beginning last summer, the Palter & Chatter consorted with The Coastal Conservation League to facilitate publication of three commentaries detailing the CCL's opposition to the completion of I-526 while decrying "the absence of any attention to the Interstate 26 corridor" and the Neck's unique position as "the epicenter of new growth in the region." The second commentary went further by insisting that the CCL's cherry-picked, self-serving justifications from a recent report "should compel County Council to defer the funding" for the Mark Clark extension and "reallocate the award to other important projects including needed improvements to I-26. The third commentary, by none other than Charleston's own self-proclaimed environmental expert and renown regional planner (second only to Pericles), Dana Beach, chided the SCDOT for "politically motivated boondoggles" and "spending" billions of dollars on projects that provide little or no public benefit." His closing sentence was nothing short of self-serving political hyperbole. The ultimate goal of transportation reform should be to direct taxpayers' dollars to projects that serve public needs rather than special interest.

The Ports Authority should have acquired the former Macalloy site when it had the chance, but a few expensive suits in the front office either didn't have the necessary foresight or lacked the political courage to face down Pericles. So, what's the best option for the Ports Authority, short of condemning the entire Macalloy Tract for the new terminal access corridor and other badly needed port expansion activities?

At this late date, the Ports Authority's options are limited, but one option would be to call the bluff of their conspiring opponents by proposing mitigation to include limited additional access for redevelopment and becoming the primary facilitator to provide future transit rail service from the south end of Washington Street near its down-town Union Terminal to its North Charleston Terminal north of I-526. The Authority has influence over the South Carolina Railway System and to a lesser, albeit, still significant degree, over both CSX and Norfolk-Southern railways. Such a mitigation package would be too beneficial and politically popular in Charleston and North Charleston for any of their conspiring opponents to refuse.

It's Put Up or Shut Up time for the Ports Authority; the economic future of the Lowcountry and our region hangs in the balance. Now is the time for some real leadership, not just a snappy dresser. Let's see what inspirational proposals they'e got to offer in exchange for a much needed and long overdue port expansion.

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