Ruling raises I-526 question
BY ROBERT BEHRE , PRENTISS FINDLAY
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The looming end to the town of James Island adds another new twist to the decades-old story of building Interstate 526 across James and Johns islands.
Under state law, Town Council could block the project, and it had voted against it.
Now, the council could be dissolved soon.
Opponents and proponents o the I-526 project display their positions at the May 17 County Council meeting.
“There is no town of James Island.” said Charleston County Council Vice Chairman Elliott Summey. “So there is no need for any kind of endorsement.”
Without the town of James Island, the city of Charleston becomes the only municipality with a legal right to object to building the nine-mile, four-lane road over the islands from Savannah Highway to Folly Road.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, like Summey, supports completing I-526.
“Clearly, the town is not a legal entity anymore so they would have no standing to oppose it,” Riley said.
But James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey said he expects the town to attempt to reincorporate soon, if its legal appeal fails. Asked how that would affect I-526, he said, “I don’t think any break time (between incorporations) will make much difference.”
Even if Town Council doesn’t exist, many others on the island remain willing to speak out against the project, said Kate Parks, spokeswoman for the Coastal Conservation League.
“The community opposition is still very real,” she said.
Those opponents, including residents of Johns Island, packed James Island Town Hall recently for a council vote on a resolution related to the project.
County Council has the ultimate responsibility to approve or deny the highway, which drew sharp opposition at five state Department of Transportation hearings in the fall. Some have argued that a silent majority supports the highway, and it’s unclear what County Council will do next.
Summey said he wants County Council to hold its own public hearings on I-526.
The county is renegotiating its contract for the $489 million project with the State Infrastructure Bank and the Transportation Department.
So far, the county has spent about $11 million on I-526 for right-of-way, engineering and environmental studies.
The ruling at a glance
What does the court order mean?
The Supreme Court ruled that James Island was not legally incorporated. The town likely will be dissolved if its final legal appeals don’t succeed.
Does this mean that right now, there is no town?
The town and its nine employees will remain in business until the legal appeals run their course.
What’s down the road?
If the town loses its appeals, its supporters are expected to attempt to incorporate for a fourth time.
What happens to residents if THE TOWN is dissolved?
County government would be expected to take over planning, zoning and public works services now handled by the town. Some town residents — such as those in Riverland Terrace — might not be part of a fourth incorporation effort.
These residents could be annexed by the town later because annexation laws differ from incorporation laws.
Some town property owners could seek to join the city of Charleston. The city said Monday it will accept annexation petitions from those whose property is contiguous to the city.