People who live near proposed path of I-526 unlikely to be compensated

Heidi Finck talks about the completion of Interstate 526 and the effect it would have on the garden she created behind her condo at The Savannah off Arlington Road in West Ashley. The 70-year-old has worked on her garden since moving to her home in 2002.

Brad Nettles

Heidi Finck likely won't be getting any money from Charleston County to compensate her for the likely decline in the value of her condominium, which sits a short distance from the proposed path of the Interstate 526 extension.

Neither will the rest of her neighbors in The Savannah in West Ashley, or anyone living within 1,000 feet of the proposed road, which Charleston County Council in December approved with a 5-4 vote.

Councilwoman Anna Johnson cast one of the deciding votes in part because of her own amendment, which required the county to put forth “good faith efforts” to compensate people who live within 1,000 feet of the road for the impact it would have on their property.

But County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said Monday that people who think they will receive financial compensation are misinterpreting the amendment. The county more likely will consider efforts such as building sound barriers, Pryor said. “We're not going to put money in anybody's pocket. Somebody took it the wrong way.”

When reached on her cellphone, Johnson said she was driving and asked that questions be sent to her county email address. She did not respond to those questions Monday.

Councilwoman Colleen Condon, one of the four members who voted against building the road, said she is certain the amendment called for financial compensation. And she is disappointed that county staffers haven't yet come back to County Council with a plan on how the county can compensate people whose property values likely will decline due to their proximity to I-526.

“We have full-time staff supposedly competent to build a federal highway, but they haven't gotten back to us on this,” she said.

Finck, 70, isn't expecting the county to come through. “It's not going to happen,” she said of the money. But she's not going to give up fighting to save her home and the bucolic patio garden she has created just a stone's throw from the fast food restaurants and car dealerships on Savannah Highway.

The controversial $558 million road would cut through The Savannah, taking with it two of the complex's buildings. Finck's building would be spared, but the noise, dirt and air pollution from living so close to an interstate would dramatically impact the quality of her retirement years, she said.

She has lived in her home since 2002, she said, and nobody told her before she bought it that an interstate could be built through the development.

She brought home the 20-pound bricks for her patio, one-by-one, in the trunk of her 1999 Ford Mustang. And she painstakingly cares for her plants and the birds that stop by each day for the worms she feeds them. “Who's going to compensate me for that?” she said.

After passing through a portion of West Ashley, the road would cross Johns and James islands, where it would link up to the James Island connector.

James Island resident John Cecil doesn't live in the path of the Mark Clark Expressway, but he's been following the issue for a long time and is concerned about the road's impact on the fragile Lowcountry ecosystem and the people who would live near it.

Cecil, a video editor, recently released a video that takes a look at the road's impact.

He said he plans soon to hold neighborhood meetings for people who live within 1,000 feet of the road to discuss how they might push for financial compensation.

The plan for I-526 compensation falls outside the regular boundaries of how property for road projects is acquired, county officials have said. The regular rules for acquiring property and compensating owners through eminent domain apply only when the proposed project would actually touch someone's property.

In the case of the I-526 extension, project money from the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank could be used to cover the cost of property through which the road would pass. But it can't be used to pay people who would live near it for a drop in property value, officials have said.

Pryor said county staffers are working on a compensation plan now, and they will get back to County Council as soon as they are ready. “I'm going to wait until staff comes back with a full report,” he said. “Some people are trying to put the cart before the horse.”

Finck said she's going to continue to fight the road, not just for herself. She doesn't think it will benefit the area.

“I have a small hope that this thing is not going to be built, but if it is, they are going to have a hard time with me,” she said. “I'm going to sit on the street in front of a bulldozer.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.