Charleston County sues state over I-526 project, claims breach of contract

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The battle to extend Interstate 526 through James and Johns Islands has taken a new took a new twist.

Charleston County has filed suit against the South Carolina Infrastructure Bank, claiming the bank broke the contract with the county to finish I-526.

County spokesman Shawn Smetana confirmed the suit was filed Thursday at the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The suit names the bank and DOT as defendants. The county wants the high court to decide if the state breached the contract.In May 2016, the bank board passed a resolution that allows them to kill the project if the county doesn't come up with money to cover a $305 million shortfall for the project.

Last week, the SIB gave Charleston County an additional 30 days to come up with the cash.

But Charleston County Council Chairman Vic Rawl says there's no language in the contract that allows the bank board to kill the project.

"If we can move forward that fantastic, if we cannot move forward then there probably will be some ramifications," Rawl said.

The county wants to connect I-526 with James and Johns Islands to relieve traffic congestion. Opponents claim the extension will ruin the character of Johns Island.

The Coastal Conservation League is against finishing 526, claiming it will bring more development to Johns Island. The CCL was surprised to learn about the lawsuit.

"It seems almost like a dog cornered that doesn't know what to do, you know?" CCL spokesman Jason Crowley said. "A person doesn't sue when they have options or when they have alternatives."

In an effort to make their case to the high court the county has affidavits of support from nine people. They include Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, County Councilman Elliott Summey, State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis and four citizens who live on James and Johns islands.

The suit means county taxpayers will have to foot the bill to fight for the completion of 526.

"Just don't build it, don't build it, we'll get what we deserve," Danny Ray, who does not support finishing I-526, said.

"They got to get it done, so we can't let Infrastructure fall apart," Matthew Leber, who does support the completion, said.

"Quite frankly it may cost a little money but let me beg the question: How much has it already cost us as a result of the delay?" Rawl said.

In the end, the court of opinion may not matter. It may be the Supreme Court that has the final say.

The bank has committed $420 million to finish I-526 but the estimated price tag is now $725 million.

The state's Department of Transportation is also named in the lawsuit. Rawl says the county has no issues with DOT but says the agency had to be added because they are part of the contract.

A request for comment has been sent to SIB Board Chairman John White, Jr.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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