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County Council, April 14

Finance Committee decides against extending I-526
But will the State move ahead regardless?
Warwick Jones

Those opposed to the extension of I-526 should be breathing easier after last night’s Finance Committee meeting. But they may not be breathing easy. Although the Committee voted unanimously against the extension proposed by the SC Department of Transportation, (SCDOT) some Council members feel the extension may still be built, but by the state.

Discussion on the issue followed an executive session that lasted for more than an hour. It was opened by a lengthy but lucid explanation from Council member Summey as to the difficulty before Council. As he explained, it lay in the wording of the original contract drawn up between the County, the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) and the SCDOT. It committed the County to the project and with all the liability for costs beyond the $420 million promised by the SIB. It also seemed likely that if the County did not proceed with the project, the State could claim and take the approximate $12 million that the SIB had already outlaid for the project. As well, if the County did not proceed, State could take the initiative and move ahead with the project. It was a “horrible contract”

County Administrator O’Neal spoke at length of the financial difficulties that could be placed before the County should it be required to reimburse the $12 million already spent on the project. Predictably the options included lay offs, cut backs in services, cut back in capital spending and a millage increase.

Council member Schweers, a long time opponent of the extension took issue with Council member Summey as to the likely action of the State. He was uncertain as to whether it would move to take over the project but conceded that there could be a need to reimburse the $12 million that had been spent so far. But even so, better to take on this liability that building the extension which was opposed by much of the public and finding the cash to meet the likely $70 million deficit between the estimated cost of about $490 million and the SIB funding of $420 million.

Finance Committee members seemed to all agree that the County nitiate negotiations with the SIB and the SC DOT to extricate itself for the existing agreement. But the approach seemed to be a stumbling block. Eventually a motion made by Council member Schweers, and amended by Council member Condon was carried 5 to 3 with Council members Rawl, Summey and Chairman Pryor voting against. The motion was
In recognition of the following:

  1. The County did not originate the I-526 proposal, but instead, was encouraged to host this project originated by the State.

  2. The County is required under federal law to consider all options resulting from an Environmental Impact Study.

  3. SCDOT’s alternatives yielded by the Environmental Impact Study exceed the funding approved by the State Infrastructure Bank.

  4. Funding shortfalls are the responsibility of the County.

  5. All reimbursements are at the discretion of the State Infrastructure Bank.

  6. Based on extensive public hearings, the public’s preference of the SCDOT allowable alternatives unexpectedly appears to be “No Build”
  7. .
  8. Widespread opposition, including many elected bodies and regulatory agencies, exists to SCDOT’s build alternatives.

Therefore, if enhancements to existing transportation infrastructure to accomplish the project goals are still being refused for consideration by the SCDOT, then County Council directs staff, in cooperation with SCDOT and SIB, to negotiate a “No Build” agreement.

We note that Chairman Pryor acknowledged the warning given by County Attorney Dawson back in 2007 about the perils of the contract with the SIB and SCDOT. But the warning had been ignored, and to the sorrow of the County. Readers might like to see our commentary on the Finance Committee meeting on June 19. 2007. (Go to menu on left hand side of Charlestonwatch web site, press County Council, and scroll down to article). The record shows that Attorney Dawson did indeed warn the County. But there were lots of assurances made by Council members and State legislators about containing the liability of the County. What happened to these assurances? If they were made, then a lot of the fears of Council members Summey and Rawl are not founded. But perhaps with the passage of time, they have been forgotten. Tim Scott was the Chair of the Council at the time and the agreement bears his signature.

Editor’s Note. Council at its meeting last night endorsed the decision of the Finance Committee in relation to the Extension of I-526. It voted against the extension proposed by the SC DOT. It will now seek to negotiate with the SIB to use the funds previously committed to the I-526 extension, for road improvements in the County. If the SIB does not agree then the County will adopt a “no build” policy, recognizing that the $12 million already spent on the I-526 project may be repayable to the SIB.

Local media also reported on the weekend that the SCDOT says that it will not move ahead with the I-526 extension unless it has the support of the County

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