After a week's delay — a delay that left at least one City Council member "totally frustrated" — the city of Charleston agreed to apply to the State Infrastructure Bank for $32 million to speed up work to raise the Low Battery.
But City Council also wants to ask the state to reopen its contract on the city's massive Spring-Fishburne drainage project and cover those cost overruns of up to $43 million.
If the state tells Charleston leaders they may have either a $32 million Low Battery grant or more funding for the Spring-Fishburne project — but not both — Mayor John Tecklenburg is to opt for the Spring-Fishburne project, City Council voted Monday.
Last week, City Council deferred a vote on a $32 million application for the Low Battery wall-heightening project because some City Council members said they felt the overrun costs to Spring-Fishburne project should be the city's funding priority.
The Spring-Fishburne project includes a new drainage tunnel to end flooding on the heavily traveled Septima P. Clark Parkway, commonly referred to as the Crosstown, and is now expected to cost significantly more than its original $154 million budget. It is being supported through about $88 million from the State Infrastructure Bank, a special arm of state government created to help fund large transportation-related projects.
When the bank made that commitment, it made clear that it would not fund any more toward the project, but the city will ask the bank to reconsider that part of the contract.
Funding for the Low Battery project, which involves building up the century-old Low Battery seawall 2½ to 3 feet higher to match the height of the High Battery, is estimated at about $64 million total. Initial plans to build up the nearly 4,800 feet of seawall were revisited after waves from Hurricane Matthew crashed over the proposed height of the seawall.
Council members Harry Griffin, Kevin Shealy and Keith Waring voted against the city's plan, and Councilman Bill Moody was absent Monday. Griffin said he felt the city already had a legitimate source of revenue for the low battery work, but said he got emails from constituents urging City Council to "stop the politics" behind the application. He laid blame at the mayor's feet.
"Once again, we look like the bad guys when we were cornered into a decision at the last minute," Griffin said.
Councilman Peter Shahid said his constituents are frustrated and upset the city hasn't moved forward.
"We have got to address funding projects in this city and we've got to quit blaming people for that," he said. "We have got to fund a lot of projects, big and small, and how do you go about that, I don't know. I'm totally frustrated with how this is playing out."