Mayors discuss challenges, local controversies

The mayors of Summerville, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and Charleston talk about challenges faced by the Charleston region during the first Power Breakfast of 2012. (Photo/Ryan Wilcox)

The mayors of Summerville, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and Charleston talk about challenges faced by the Charleston region during the first Power Breakfast of 2012. (Photo/Ryan Wilcox)

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published Feb. 16, 2012

Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Summerville and North Charleston will face economic and infrastructure challenges as well as controversies about cruise ships, rail yards and Interstate 526 during 2012, the cities’ mayors said Thursday.

Mayors Joe Riley of Charleston, Billy Swails of Mount Pleasant, Bill Collins of Summerville and Keith Summey of North Charleston spoke during the Power Breakfast hosted by Charleston Regional Business Journal on Thursday morning.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails talks about his town and the future of the Charleston region during the Power Breakfast. (Photo/Ryan Wilcox)

Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails talks about his town and the future of the Charleston region during the Power Breakfast. (Photo/Ryan Wilcox)
Sheri Cooper of S.C. Public Railways debates a point about job creation after comments by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey. (Photo/Ryan Wilcox)

Sheri Cooper of S.C. Public Railways debates a point about job creation after comments by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey. (Photo/Ryan Wilcox)

“I think the biggest challenge for us to remember is job creation and expanding our economy,” Riley said. “That’s the best thing we all can do.”

Collins said Summerville’s population percentage grew the fastest for cities in South Carolina for the decade that ended in 2010. The city needs to create more jobs so its residents don’t have to commute. But for those that do commute, the city needs to create better bus services and is working on park-and-ride lots for Summerville residents working downtown and at the Boeing Co.

Swails and Summey add another challenge the area faces — the state of South Carolina.

“It’s a constant challenge battling a state that (doesn’t) truly understand what local government is all about,” Summey said.

Swails said every time the area looks around, another mandate comes from the state.

“They need to leave us alone and let us govern our municipalities,” Swails said.

The city-versus-state conflict bled into questions from the audience. One audience member asked Summey about a controversial rail yard proposed by S.C. Public Railways and the state Department of Commerce.

“There’s that nasty name, South Carolina,” Summey said. “We’re trying to find a solution to the issue. What we have done is asked that we not be impeded any more than we already have with rail traffic in the area.”

The state proposes to offer dual access to an intermodal rail yard on the former Navy base and has condemned land for the rail yard and purchased hundreds of acres out of foreclosure. The state’s plan allows Norfolk Southern to access the facility from the north, while CSX Corp. would access the facility from the south. The rail yard would serve container terminals at the S.C. State Ports Authority.

North Charleston argues that arrangement violates a 2002 memorandum of understanding between the ports authority and the city. The memorandum calls for rail access to port property only through the southern end of the container terminal.

The state’s plans are the focus of legal challenges filed by North Charleston, and Summey said he expects the legal battle to go into mediation.

“If not, I think we’ll be in court probably by October (or) November,” Summey said Thursday.

After Summey’s comments, Sheri Cooper of S.C. Public Railways asked Summey how the intermodal yard won’t create new jobs for the city. The question began a heated exchange between Cooper and Summey

Summey said the city gave more than 70 acres to Clemson University to develop the Clemson University Restoration Institute, which will bring the university and business together to develop new technology and test wind turbines. The companies will add jobs and tax money for North Charleston’s residents. The state’s rail plan jeopardizes that project, Summey said.

“The only way there will be a rail yard built on the Navy base is through a court order,” Summey said.

Cooper said both sides were trying to help the economy, while Summey argued Cooper wasn’t hearing him and the city has engineers that will tell her she’s wrong.

The state has its engineers, too, Cooper responded, adding the intermodal yard will create jobs for truck drivers and administrators. Summey said those same jobs will be created if the state puts the rail yard at the city’s proposed site.

The mayors also discussed Interstate 526 and the cruise industry in Charleston. The mayors said I-526 needs to be completed and said the cruise industry has a positive impact on their cities.

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