By Warwick Jones
Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor made an effort to find a solution to the I-526 impasse at the June 2 finance committee meeting but the council overall seemed unenthusiastic and sought time to dwell on approaching the issue.
The committee broke for an executive session to discuss I-526 and a letter from the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
Uncharacteristically of late, the session lasted probably only 10 minutes or so. Pryor noted that the Transportation Infrastructure Bank no longer considered the county in default in relation to the June 7, 2007, Intergovernmental Agreement.
(This agreement bound the county, the Transportation Infrastructure Bank and the state Department of Transportation to accept a $420 million grant from the Transportation Infrastructure Bank and to complete the I-526 extension to James Island).
In a letter to County Attorney Joe Dawson, the counsel for the Transportation Infrastructure Bank said the action by county council on May 17 to rescind the “No Build” conclusion to the project cures the past default.
That was the good news. The bad news was in the conclusion of the letter:
“Please be advised that the (Transportation Infrastructure Bank) does not waive and reserves all rights and remedies is has or may have to enforce the aforementioned Intergovernmental Agreement with respect to future or other actions or omissions by any party to that agreement.”
On the face of it, the county is back where it started. It can complete I-526 and comply with the terms of the agreement though still wrestle as to where it finds the estimated $69 million above the $420 million Transportation Infrastructure Bank grant to complete the project.
Or it can go back to its decision to abandon the project and face the legal consequences of again going into default. At a minimum this would probably mean paying back the $12 million already drawn from the grant.
Or it can negotiate with the other parties to the agreement for some resolution which we believe is likely to be a “compromise” still close to the original proposal for the I-526 extension.
Pryor is trying hard to bring closure to the issue. At the June meeting he suggested that Charleston Country hire a consultant to conduct a scientific poll of a 1,000 citizens on their views regarding completion of I-526.
He said the cost was an estimated $22,000. Many council members applauded his efforts to resolve the issue but many were not happy about a poll.
Councilman Joe Qualey wanted more time to dwell of the suggestion and council member Colleen Condon took issue with the wording suggested by the chairman.
Council member Vic Rawl suggested that a consultant should be hired only after a request for proposal had been issued.
But even so he warned of the precedent. Is council going to conduct a poll every time an important issue confronts it? Other council members asked the same question. Some also added that the results of a “scientific” poll were still not enough to make a difference to their view.
Council member J. Elliott Summey concluded his comments with, “What we know today is that we don’t know.” He called for a true public process.
Summey rejected a referendum but had no recommendation for what specifically should be done. Council member Anna Johnson sort of concurred: “We don’t have a plan.” She also noted that she had been bombarded with telephone calls and emails, and that they seemed equally divided between both sides of the issue.
Councilman Dickie Schweers said the issue was a hot-button one and the public should be informed if there was to be any vote.
Nobody made a motion in support of Pryor’s suggestion. But the issue is not going to go away and must be resolved. Expect more action at future council meetings.
Warwick Jones is a resident of Charleston and has been involved with a number of area organizations, including the Charleston County Greenbelt Advisory Board and the Preservation Society of Charleston.
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