Charleston County told to repay $12M or finish 526

COLUMBIA — Charleston County must repay $12 million that was supposed to be used toward the completion of the Mark Clark Expressway or an arm of the state Department of Transportation will undertake “all remedies available” to collect the cash.

Charleston County Council meets at 7 p.m. today at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston.

At issue is whether the county has defaulted on its contract with the bank. Council members have been divided on that question.

The State Infrastructure Bank warned Charleston County Council members in a letter this week that the bank needs the money back if the project is axed. The bank members are worried that the outstanding debt will hurt its ability to lend money, a heavy concern considering the bank funds major road construction across South Carolina.

The cash was borrowed for right-of-way issues and engineering and environmental studies.

The letter follows council’s decision Thursday to nix the controversial plan to complete the highway and negotiate a “no build” decision with the state.

“I think the trouble is just beginning,” Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said at the time.

The county attorney warned that the contract with the state does not allow the county to just quit the project, although some council members want to use the state funding earmarked for I-526 for other transportation work.

The state Transportation Department has maintained that to reach the project goals I-526 must be extended from West Ashley to Johns and James islands, linking the existing highway to the James Island connector. The community has fought back against that plan and other alternatives.

The Infrastructure Bank could intercept the money that flows from the state to the county, known as Aid to Subdivisions, for repayment. It is not immediately clear how such action would impact the county.

Several council members contacted by The Post and Courier did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Check back with postandcourier.com for updates on the story.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her at twitter.com/yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog at postandcourier.com/blogs.