Authority over millions of dollars in North Charleston port mitigation funds shifts away from neighborhoods.
Nearly seven years after the State Ports Authority agreed to pay more than $4 million to help a group of North Charleston communities mitigate the impacts of a new port terminal on the former Navy base, control of the plan and the money has been shifted away from neighborhood leaders.
The North Charleston communities included in the mitigation agreement are:AccabeeChicora/CherokeeUnion HeightsHoward HeightsWindsor PlaceFive MileLiberty Hill
The mitigation agreement has been touted as an award-winning, unusual example of struggling communities securing direct funding and governmental support to compensate for environmental and other industrial development impacts. The SPA had originally proposed using mitigation money to preserve land east of the Cooper River.
The Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, whose leadership includes neighborhood presidents from seven communities, has been in charge of the plan.
Since 2006 LAMC has bought a small building for an office, created a $250,000 scholarship fund, and spent about half a million dollars on consultants to create plans. But the development of a “model block” of affordable homes announced two years ago never broke ground, and no money has been spent on a planned job training center, wellness centers, or community center improvements.
“The problem is, they have received more than $1 million in funds and I haven’t seen anything that’s been accomplished, unless I’m missing something,” City Councilman Bob King said.
The city has now decided, with LAMC’s agreement, to shift leadership of the program to the Mitigation Agreement Commission, whose members range from LAMC officials and City Council members to representatives of state agencies such as the Department of Transportation, and the local Chamber of Commerce.
The LAMC leaders are all unpaid volunteers.
They concede there have been organizational problems, but say the organization has made positive changes in the area.
“A lot of the (neighborhood) presidents, they have jobs and they aren’t always able to attend meetings,” said LAMC President Rahim Karriem, who also sits on the commission that will take over.
“I think we have accomplished a lot, as a grass-roots organization,” he said. “I think (the leadership change) is going to help us to expedite some of these things.”
Neighborhood association presidents will continue to be consulted, and the commission will pursue the same Community Mitigation Plan as before, with initiatives ranging from affordable housing to job training and a scholarship fund.
The plan calls for spending most of the more than $4 million to establish a trust to create affordable housing, create a Maritime Training Institute career center, and expand health care and fitness amenities at community centers or health care facilities.
More than $300,000 was spent creating a master plan, and other $150,000 went to developing an affordable housing plan.
“I think all the money that was spent developing the master plans was money well spent,” said Wannetta Mallette, a city employee who chairs the MAC.
The roughly $4.1 million, most of which is paid in $300,000 yearly installments, is seen as seed money that could be leveraged for some of the projects.
King, who is a member of the commission that’s taking control, said he’s concerned the plan is focused on things that other nonprofit groups are already doing, such as creating affordable housing.
Councilman Bobby Jameson worries that the money could run out with little to show.
“When you run out of money but you have all these great plans, then you’re up the creek with a fistful of plans,” he said to Mallette at a meeting Thursday.
Michael Brown is a city councilman representing communities covered by the mitigation agreement, as well as a member of the LAMC leadership and the MAC board.
He said people overlook the impact LAMC has had on issues such as shutting down Charleston County’s garbage incinerator, and establishing an air monitoring program to test for pollutants in the communities.
“I think a lot of good has come out of it,” he said.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.