If the state Department of Transportation moves ahead with its plan to connect Interstate 526 to the James Island Connector, it won't be with the support of Charleston County.
After a lengthy closed-door legal review, Charleston County Council voted to unanimously oppose the state's plan to run a "parkway" from Savannah Highway to Folly Road. The parkway would cross Johns Island and including several intersections on James Island. But the council split 5-3 in a second vote demanding that the DOT either accept a scaled-back project or not build a road at all.
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, Vice Chairman Elliott Summey, and Vic Rawl voted against the proposal. Rawl and Summey said they were worried about contracts committing the county to the project. Summey had suggested handing the project over to the DOT and washing the county's hands of its involvement.
Not everyone agreed. "Such a directive would largely ensure that a project like this would be built," said Councilman Dickie Schweers. "It would be irresponsible of us to simply pass on this project. I think there are a lot of strong opinions out there and a lot of strong opinions on this council."
If the county refuses to participant in the project, they could possibly be forced to pay at least $11 million to the state if the project isn't completed — possibly. "Let's talk about fact," Summey began before talking about a contract that could "tie the hands" of the county.
He added, "If we somehow don't move forward, we could possibly be in breach. That we would possibly, quite possibly, maybe have to reimburse the state of South Carolina on any money that has already been spent."
Councilman Joe Qualey said the possible pay-back fee was worth saving taxpayers from a $489 million road nobody wants. "If there's money at risk, so be it," said Qualey, who represents James Island.
The decision will still require another vote from the council on Tuesday night. It's also not clear whether the state will be willing to consider changes to the plan or whether it will move ahead with the project, even if it doesn't have support from County Council or residents.
"To make it worse, our contract doesn't give us the authority to stop this project," Summey said. "Quite possibly, if we decided not to build it, the possibility exists that quite possibly the state of South Carolina could continue on and still possibly hold us in some sort of accountability role."
Councilman Henry Darby encouraged opponents of the project to contact their state legislators. "If not, you would put us on a ledge by ourselves," he told the crowd of more than 100 residents who came to the council meeting. "Do whatever you did to us to them."