P&C: James Island frustrated by indecision

James Island residents frustrated by indecision on Mark Clark completion


Sunday, November 27, 2011

JAMES ISLAND — Graham Finch and Phyllis Hanniford live in the path of the proposed extension of Interstate 526 and hoped soon to march out of financial limbo.

But Charleston County Council last week voted against forwarding to the state Department of Transportation the couple’s application for a hardship property acquisition.

The couple sees itself as a casualty of the indecision on whether to complete the $489 million extension of the Mark Clark Expressway from West Ashley, across Johns and James islands to the James Island Connector.

They hit financial hard times and are struggling to pay the mortgage on their nearly 3,500-square-foot house on Riley Road. But they can’t sell their property, for which they are asking about $1.3 million, because nobody wants to buy a home that might be demolished to make way for the highway.

Finch said he’s angry with officials who allowed the project to come to a standstill. “They’ve done absolutely nothing,” he said of County Council.

So far, Finch and Hanniford are the only people to apply for a hardship acquisition, but county officials said they expect more inquiries.

Finch said all he wanted from County Council was to move his application to the state level, where it would be reviewed. Council members voting in his favor would not have been agreeing to purchase his property, he said.

Council chairman Teddie Pryor said the group will discuss I-526 at its Dec. 6 meeting. That will mark the first public discussion on the matter since May.

Specifically, the group will discuss whether it wants to send a letter to the SCDOT about the project and what that letter should say, Pryor said. He also said that he plans to ask David Kinard, the SCDOT’s project manager, to attend.

The SCDOT held five public hearings and compiled a lengthy environmental study on I- 526 that recommended a low-speed parkway, the so-called “alternative G.” In the wake of loud public opposition the plan, County Council unanimously rejected the SCDOT preferred alternative in April.

That led to the State Infrastructure Bank knocking on the county’s door for the return of $11 million spent on the road so far. In response, council repealed its “no-build” decision in a 5-4 vote in May, leaving the project’s future undecided.

“We’re at a stalemate,” said Pryor, who supports the road’s completion.

Councilman Dickie Schweers is opposed to the SCDOT’s plan for completing the road. He said he sympathizes with Finch and Hanniford, but he voted against moving forward their hardship acquisition application. “I can’t support the purchase of right-of-way on a project I don’t support,” Schweers said.

He also said County Council hasn’t done anything on I-526 since its May vote to rescind its previous no-build decision. “We’re not meeting constantly to move the project forward,” he said. “We’re sitting idle.”

He thinks County Council should inform the SCDOT and State Infrastructure Bank that County Council isn’t doing anything.

In the meantime, Finch and Hanniford groan in frustration. “We can’t see how any government entity in America can do this,” Finch said. “I’m fed up with it.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.

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