Riley calls Beach’s comments reckless
Coastal Conservation League leader Dana Beach made reckless comments when he said the process by which Interstate 526 received its final piece of funding was corrupt, said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
Riley, who supports the completion of I-526 across Johns and James islands, held a press conference Thursday to respond to comments Beach made the day before at a South Carolina Policy Council press conference promoting stronger ethics laws.
The mayor was joined by other I-526 supporters, including Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor and Vice Chairman Elliott Summey, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Charleston City Councilman Bill Moody and several neighborhood group leaders.
Riley said Beach’s comments were out of line, especially those implying that House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, did anything inappropriate when he pushed the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank to give the I-526 project the final $138 million required to complete it.
The bank board already had approved $420 million for the project.
Harrell’s actions were “criticized in the most unfortunate language,” Riley said. Harrell simply was trying to bring in the money for an essential local road project, Riley said. “That’s exactly what elected officials do in a representative democracy. They represent their constituents.”
Beach, an I-526 opponent, said Wednesday the Infrastructure Bank’s board approved the additional $138 million for the project this month, even though it had no bonding capacity available until after 2020, and without discussing the matter in public.
Beach also said that money from the bank mostly has gone to projects in counties in which bank board members or those who appointed them live. And he called the bank “a slush fund.”
Riley did not dispute that the bank board didn’t discuss the matter publicly. And he agreed that the Charleston area got more money from the bank than other areas, and that many bank board members and those who appoint them live in the county.
But he criticized the way in the way Beach interpreted and presented those facts.
The Lowcountry received a larger slice of the bank’s road money because it’s a growing area and because road projects in the Lowcountry tend to be more expensive, Riley said.
The environment requires more bridges, and it requires building through wetlands, all of which drive up the cost.
Beach said Thursday that he stands by his comments. He thought it was interesting that Riley called them reckless.
“It seems that we could apply the term reckless to a governing board that committed more than $100 million of future bonding capacity on a road that’s not a state priority and not highly ranked on a regional list,” Beach said.
And he disagreed that Harrell’s role with bank road funds was to bring in more money for local projects. Harrell appoints two members of the bank’s board in his role as speaker, not his role as a Charleston representative, Beach said.
He should appoint members to the board who represent the best interests of the state, not simply the best interest of the Lowcountry, Beach said.
Riley also said he wanted to reiterate that extending the road across Johns and James islands is essential to alleviate traffic problems throughout much of the region. Without completing it, he said, people “will be sentenced to a traffic nightmare.”
He also said that he thinks the vast majority of residents support the completion of I-526.
Pryor said he thinks Beach made his comments to distract the public from the important issue of finishing I-526. “There comes a time when you have to move and stop allowing a few to hold up the process,” he said.