Tuesday, October 31, 2017 Blog · News

Freeways give way to neighborhoods. Supremes reject Charleston County’s 526 appeal. Better uses for 3/4 billion dollars. Setback lines potentially set back. Shame over plastic bags. Conservative consistency. Clams (and oysters) have ears (really).

by Dana Beach


I hope everyone had an enjoyable, breezy weekend.

You’ve probably heard about the epic battle between Robert Moses (“The Master Builder”) and Jane Jacobs (“The Death and Life of Great American Cities”) over the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, a 10-lane elevated highway that would have plowed through Greenwich Village.  The short story is that Jacobs, with a cadre of “mothers,” as Moses characterized them, and others, prevailed, handing Moses one of the few defeats in his 50-year long career.

This article from the New York Times reports that cities across the country have spent billions of dollars removing urban freeways, with the salutary benefit of restoring neighborhoods and bringing downtowns back to life.  A few examples include Paris, Boston, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Seoul, South Korea.

New York Times: Once so chic and swooshy, freeways are falling out

From the article:

Many in-city highways were built during the post-World War II boom years with easy money from the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act. They hail from an age when the automobile was ascendant and were built to quickly move commuters in and out of urban centers; many of these highways were used by white suburbanites and built in low-income minority neighborhoods (“white men’s roads through black men’s homes,” went a saying in Washington).

Charleston has its own 60s and 70s stew of highway spaghetti to deal with – the Crosstown Expressway (a white man’s road through 150 black men’s homes), with its wart on a blemish, the Ernie Passailaigue Overpass, being a prime example.  But the best thing is not to build urban and suburban expressways in the first place.  That’s a lot cheaper than having to tear them down later.  Thank you, Jane Jacobs.

The good news, as this article from the Post and Courier reports, is that the S.C. Supreme Court refused to hear Charleston County’s case alleging that they had been stiffed by the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) for I-526 funding.  I-526 is a proposed interstate from urban Charleston, across James Island – (predictably, mostly through low-income African-American neighborhoods) – to rural John’s Island.

Post and Courier: Supreme Court won’t hear Charleston County suit over completion of I-526

This next piece, an editorial from the Post and Courier, argues that this latest blow to the interstate should compel the county to give up on this boondoggle project.

Post and Courier: Editorial board: Drop 526 for other fixes

From the article:

Charleston County Council has made it clear that it won’t take “no” for an answer when it comes to pushing through the costly and controversial extension of I-526 across Johns and James islands.

But the latest setback — the state Supreme Court declined on Friday to hear a county lawsuit against the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank — should at least be cause to step back and refocus on other priorities for the time being.

Priorities like projects that would eliminate bottlenecks, (improvements to the U.S. 17/Main Rd intersection, for example), and reduce automobile trips, like transit, bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks.  These could be done for a fraction of the money, and in a fraction of the time, it would take to build I-526.

Another priority that’s become painfully obvious is dealing with flooding, another place to which STIB funds should be redirected.  This letter to the editor, by our esteemed board chair, Margot Rose, makes the case well.

Post and Courier: Rose letter: Develop a comprehensive flooding plan for Charleston now

From Margot’s letter

It’s imperative that we implore our elected officials to hire the best and most accomplished thought leaders, to develop a comprehensive plan (to reduce flooding), and to identify funding sources.

We must act to transform Charleston into a model resilient city and we must do it now.

Speaking of building things that create problems later, the state coastal management agency, OCRM/DHEC, (I won’t spell it out), has produced a new set of “baselines” that govern beachfront building.  It is worth remembering that this process was held up for two years by lobbyists for the Kiawah developers whose sole motive was to get a better deal for Captain Sams Spit.  They bet on the Spit accreting and convinced the Legislature to delay setting the line.  They didn’t anticipate Matthew and Irma, though, and are worse off than if they had just agreed to the law as it was originally written.

But that’s water under the bridge, (or over the Spit).  Today, many beachfront property owners, and developers, are expressing surprise and dismay at the new lines.  This editorial from the Island Packet explains why the line is important to the future of the coast, and why the public should support it.

Island Packet: Editorial board: Outraged at new SC beachfront restrictions? Here’s why you shouldn’t be.

From the article:

At this point, we must not forget the reason for the setback lines. It was stated succinctly in the 1988 law: “Erosion is a natural process which becomes a significant problem for man only when structures are erected in close proximity to the beach/dune system. It is in both the public and private interests to afford the beach/dune system space to accrete and erode in its natural cycle. This space can be provided only by discouraging new construction in close proximity to the beach/dune system and encouraging those who have erected structures too close to the system to retreat from it … A forty-year policy of retreat from the shoreline is established.”

Subsequent reviews of that law by scientists, citizens and legislators have shown it to be even more important today. That should not be a surprise to anyone.

The Legislature eventually did the right thing with the beachfront act, as they did last session by rejecting the “ban on plastic bag bans.”  This article from the New York Times reports on a bag ban in the central African country of Rwanda, where the sentence for using said plastic bags is “public shaming, and even prison.”

New York Times: Public shaming and even prison for plastic bag use in Rwanda

From the article:

The nation’s zero tolerance policy toward plastic bags appears to be paying off: Streets in the capital, Kigali, and elsewhere across this hilly, densely populated country are virtually spotless. 

We probably shouldn’t go as far as prison sentences for bag users, but a little shame might be in order, to turn the tide on this totally unnecessary environmental scourge.

Legislators who call themselves conservative should, at least, be ashamed of the hypocrisy of using state law to usurp local communities’ authority to protect their environment.  At least the conservative Weekly Standard thinks so.

Weekly Standard: Red states, blue towns

From the article:

(We don’t love plastic bag bans…)  But the Scrapbook remembers when it was a cornerstone of conservative thought that the best government was that closest to where people live. Local lawn-cutting ordinances shouldn’t be a federal matter and it’s better for tree-trimming rules to be made by city rather than state lawmakers.

Not to mention the fact that many conservatives, in the good old days anyway, were also conservationists – Teddy Roosevelt being my favorite example.  This article from WJCL TV in Beaufort reports on one such conservative.

WJCL: Proposal to ban plastic bags in Beaufort County revised; three more public forums scheduled​.

From the article:

WJCL News spoke with Councilman Mike Covert. Covert, one of the more conservative members of Beaufort County Council, said he supports the ban. He said while he opposes government overreach, he feels the ban is common sense legislation that would help protect the Lowcountry.

“I think this only makes common sense that if we are knowingly killing the logger head turtle, knowingly destroying the oyster beds, knowing that we’re doing that and it has been proven that we know that we’re doing that, we need to eliminate single source plastic bags,” Covert said.

Beaufort County was one of many local governments to oppose offshore oil exploration and drilling.  Here is yet another reason to support that cause…

Some of you may remember the perennial, (not “perineal”), question from the comic strip, BC, “Do clams have legs?”  This next article from the New York Times answers an even more perplexing one – do oysters have ears?

New York Times: Yes, oysters can ‘hear.’ They probably wish we’d clam up.

From the article:

New research published Wednesday in PLoS One reveals that oysters will close their shells when exposed to noises along a range of frequencies that includes the sounds emitted by known noise polluters like cargo ships and underwater oil exploration.

In oysters, closed shells are an indicator of distress. Under optimal conditions, bivalve mollusks will keep their shells open, and are thought to shut them only when feeling stressed or threatened. Clamping their shells to screen out noise pollution or other artificial irritants could prevent oysters from perceiving important biological cues, said the authors of the study.

So, let’s not just save the whales (from seismic testing and other assaults).  Let’s save the oysters too!

Have a great week!


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