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County Council, November 20

I-526 issue generates more heat
Council member questions impact
Warwick Jones

As has become common in holiday periods, the Finance Committee meeting and the Council meeting were held back to back last evening. And despite the very light agenda, it all took a lengthy time.

There were also a large handful of resolutions and recognitions. One of the notable was that of Ms. Betty Craven, the long serving Clerk of Council. The Council chamber already bears her name but in further recognition of her service, and her perennial sunny and friendly disposition (our take and not the words in the resolution) November 8, in 2012 and the future, was declared Beverly Craven Day. She also got a standing ovation!

Predictably, a large number of citizens turned out to express their thoughts about the City of Charleston’s aspiration to take over the completion of I-526. Probably about 30 spoke and all bar one were opposed. Their arguments were familiar – an adverse impact on the environment and the rural ambience of Johns Island, and the high and disproportionate cost. Some speakers also questioned its necessity, noting that some traffic congestion on Johns Island (at the intersection of River Road and Maybank Highway) had been alleviated by recent improvements implemented by the County.

Midway through the citizens’ participation period, Council member Darby sought permission from the Chair to speak. The Council member has written articles in the Post and Courier about his concern over the impact of the I-526 completion on Johns Island. Some members of the public referred to these articles and thanked him for his efforts. But there is little doubt that he and some other members of Council are wrestling to find the right answer to the I-526 issue. And their dilemma is not helped by rising stridency of the rhetoric. After a number of speakers referred to the harm caused to the communities in the way of the highway, the Council member declared that he had travelled with staff and the County Chair along the planned route. There were very few houses in its way and he did not see how many houses would be destroyed. He noted that at the last meeting of Council, a citizen made a very emotional appeal. It now transpired that she lived some miles from the planned route. He “did not want to be bamboozled” by the pleas of citizens.

The Counil member went on to say that his decision on I-526 would be based on common sense and not persuasion by Mayor Riley. But he warned that something had to give. Both sides cannot have their way. We note that at a meeting last month, Council member Darby warned opponents of the I-526 completion that development was coming to Johns Island and that sometime in the future, either I-526 or the Sea Island Parkway would need to be built.

Council member Darby’s comments did not sit well with many of the speakers. They publicly invited him to visit their properties and be shown the likely adverse impact of the construction. One speaker noted that a property did not have to be in the direct path to be impacted. He spoke of the difficulty/impossibility of obtaining finance from banks to buy a property near such a development. The proximity of the proposed highway therefore made it impossible to sell the affected properties.

A number of speakers noted that Mayor Riley was scheduled to address Council on December 4. They asked that representatives of groups opposed to the extension also be allowed to speak at the same meeting. On December 13, Staff is scheduled to give a presentation on the options that Council has over the I-526 issue. It is probable, that Council will vote again on the issue.

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