HICKS COLUMN: The check ain't in the mail
So the county has identified about 3,100 pieces of property that sit within 1,000 feet of the final leg of Interstate 526.
And, as you may recall, Charleston County Council said it would pay all those property owners for any decrease in value they may suffer as a result of having a highway within seeing distance of their back yards.
Well, good luck with that.
Although county staff is currently researching ways to make good on that promise, several council members say it can't possibly be done.
“I questioned the legality and enforceability of that idea when the amendment was introduced,” Councilman Joe Qualey says. “And I still do.”
Basically, opponents of 526 on council say there's no money to do this, no legal way to justify it and no real push to actually pay people.
And the county knows it.
A carrot, not a contract
The idea of paying people for a loss of property value came up on the same day council voted to finally finish 526 — 40 years after the road was first proposed.
Councilwoman Anna Johnson, the fifth and deciding vote for the road, went along with the plan only when an amendment was added to the resolution to reimburse folks who are negatively impacted by the project.
Councilman Dickie Schweers says that “good faith effort” — as it was worded — was just the carrot to get Johnson's vote. The proponents were so desperate for her vote, no one actually checked out whether they could legally do this sort of thing.
Now the county's in a jam.
“I don't see how it can be reasonably honored,” he says. “I feel like the end game will not be any payments to any property owners.”
Part of the problem, and the county's only out, could be actually determining a specific lost dollar amount. Councilman Herb Sass — an appraiser, which means he knows a thing or two about this — says determining an actual loss of value is tough.
Some commercial businesses might actually increase in value being closer to a major highway. And, Sass points out, right now there are people in West Ashley and Mount Pleasant who have the road running through their back yards.
If they pay some people, is it going to open the door for others to seek reparations?
Where's the money?
The tedious work of building the road is under way now.
As Diane Knich reports today, part of that is buying the property of folks who live in the path of the road. The county can use money from the State Infrastructure Bank — the road's sugar daddy — to pay for that.
And Qualey says the legal problem is one that the county's attorneys should have flagged before the vote. Eminent domain only gives government the right to buy property touching a road project, not land that just happens to fall within a quarter-mile.
But council members have spoken, and Charleston County staffers have no alternative but to keep looking into the idea. Even if it is completely unrealistic.
Bottom line, don't expect to get that check in the mail anytime soon.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at blog.postandcourier.com/brians-blog.