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County Council, December 16

Farewell to two Council members
Property owners suffering over indecision on I 526 extension

Warwick Jones

It was the final meeting of Council for the year. Council members Inabinett and Thurmond were thanked for their service, and kind words were said about their contribution to the working and achievements of Council. Neither Council member sought reelection Ė Council member Thurmond because of his work in the community and the frequent need to recuse himself from voting, and Council member Inabinett, because he had spent so much time in public service, it was, well, time to step down. The two new members of Council, Mr. Joe Qualey and Ms. Anna Johnson will be sworn in at the first meeting in the New Year. The political balance of Council will not change with their election as party affiliations are the same as those of the members they replace. Interestingly, though probably not significant, both the new members have served on the Council of James Island, but in different incarnations.

Unusual, but as a nod to the coming Christmas holiday period, the Finance Meeting yesterday was followed immediately by a Council meeting. Understandably, voting at the latter was brief and followed that on the Finance Committee. And as for matters of substance, there was little new.

The final approval for funding was given to the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) to join with the Town of Mount Pleasant to purchase 246 acres for a park on Rifle Range Road for $20 million. The details of the plan and purchase were released some months ago. The PRC will use $8.62 million of half cent sales tax funds to help meet its $10 million share of the cost. The Town of Mount Pleasant will also draw $4.66 million from the half cent sales through its Urban allocation entitlement to fund its $10 million commitment.

Executive Director of the PRC, Tom OíRourke thanked Council and also noted that the PRC had now depleted the $36 million that had been allocated to it from the sales tax. But he went on to say that the funds had allowed the PRC to considerably expand its park holdings, build up the Countyís green space, to provide facilities and create new boat landings. He was clearly pleased with the PRCís achievements, and rightly so in our view.

Council also agreed to sales tax funding recommended by the Greenbelt Bank to buy 157 acres abutting the town of Meggett and which has 3800 feet of frontage to Toogoodoo Creek. The cost was $2.72 million. There was no matching financing.

Citizens plead for a decision on I-526
The extension or not of I-526 has some unlikely victims, or at least not in a way that was anticipated. In Citizen Comment time, two speakers lamented about their plight, and not for the first time. They owned property in the way of the proposed I 526 extension. They didnít care whether the extension went ahead Ė just make a decision they pleaded. With Council still uncertain as to what it will do, the property owners, and many other along the proposed path, can not sell their properties. Who wants to buy a property when there is likelihood it will be condemned? And while the Council ponders, the state is not moving ahead to acquire properties along the proposed path.

We sensed a lot of sympathy for the property owners, and on Council as well. Council members may also be wondering as to what will happen in relation to I-526. At an earlier meeting, Council rejected Alternative G and sought approval for extending I 526 but not to James Island. A letter from the SC DOT suggested any new plan that deviated from the original proposal of Council was likely to lose the opportunity for funding. But Chairman Pryor said that there has been a meeting with the secretary of the Department and that there was still an opportunity that the Councilís last proposal could still be considered.

This didnít seem to placate the property holders who threatened to return again and again to plead for a decision on the I-526 extension.

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