By Jacob Flannick
Disputes over how to resolve Johns Island’s long-standing roadway issues persist as the Towns of Seabrook and Kiawah continue pushing for the hotly contested cross-island parkway known as the Sea Islands Greenway.
The Town of Seabrook late last month unanimously voted to dole out $5,000 over the next five months to the Kiawah Island Community Association, a property-owners group aiming to galvanize support through petitions, brochures and public information sessions applauding the prospective corridor. Pockets of islanders, meanwhile, remain unwavering in their opposition.
Johns Island resident Thomas Legare, among bands of residents calling to revamp Johns Island‘s roadways, speculates affluent, non-native resort islanders constitute the majority of greenway advocates.
“It’s really insulting to me that these sons ‘a [expletive] come in here and try and shove a road down our throats,” he says. “There is no one on Johns Island that supports this road and not everyone on Kiawah and Seabrook supports it, either.”
According to KICA member Dr. Paul Roberts, former chairman of both the community association and Kiawah Island Roads Committee, roadway opponents are dwindling. Reports from local news outlets, he alleges, are exaggerating opposition numbers.
“They’ll contend there’s 3,000 of ‘em, but there isn’t; there’s probably a base of 20 or so people who are just adamantly against the Greenway,” he says. “They go to those meetings, they stand up and rant and rave; they have this mistaken idea that you can fix our roads.”
A survey issued last year revealed 85 percent of Seabrook respondents favor the greenway, with a slightly lower approval rating on Kiawah. And a similar poll tallied recently more than 1,000 Johns and Wadmalaw island residents pledging support.
Nevertheless, misinformation surrounding the scenic parkway continues driving skepticism, says Seabrook Town Councilman Sam Reed, chairman of the island’s Roads Committee.
“One of the biggest misconceptions, in my opinion, is that this road would only benefit the so-called rich folks out here on the islands,” he says, estimating contractors and laborers from outlying areas constitute about 90 percent of work-related traffic along River and Bohicket roads a result of more than 11,000 employment opportunities on Kiawah and Seabrook. “We’re all dedicated to making the roads safer out here.”
Dr. Roberts, alongside members of the Kiawah and Seabrook Roads Committees, compiled a 28-page report three months ago describing the greenway as “clearly the best alternative” to alleviate congestion and safety hazards along the islands’ narrow country roads primarily on Bohicket, Main and River roads.
Unrelenting promotional efforts from the KICA and other pro-greenway organizations, he assures, will uproot remaining opposition entrenched throughout the islands.
“The problem has been that the facts aren’t easily available,” says Dr. Roberts, former director of Transportation Studies at MIT. “A lot of people don’t understand why it’s a good idea to do it, but if you know what the real facts are than it’s very likely you will support it.”
KICA amassed last February roughly $100,000 from Kiawah and Seabrook organizations to contract consultant Maurice Washington, a former Charleston City Council member, to coalesce support and sway a County Council vote favoring the greenway.
The five-month promotional campaign, however, stoked further commotion among roadway adversaries.
Johns Island resident and community activist Bill Saunders, 77, contends Kiawah-Seabrook officials are dodging distressed residents’ concerns, relying rather on “hired guns” to serve as liaisons between supporters and opponents.
“These folks have never attempted to talk to the people on Johns Island,” he says. “They’ve hired people to talk to the people on Johns Island, to convince them that they know what is best for the people on Johns Island. But we’re not going to be a surrogate mother for the people on Seabrook and Kiawah.”
Saunders, who favors widening existing roadways, says the greenway’s route linking Betsy Kerrison Parkway to the Stono River Bridge will slice through numerous property lines, as well as herald suburban sprawl and diminish the islands’ rural, agriculturally-rooted charm.
“The leadership really doesn’t care about the people on Johns Island,” says Saunders, who believes many supporters champion the roadway under the guise of evacuation precautions.
“And don’t let anyone give you that excuse about evacuation we stay on the island when we have a storm,” attests Saunders.
KICA president Craig Weaver, on the other hand, says the cross-island roadway remains a plausible alternative to accommodate island-wide development anticipated in the next decade. Zoning lines and water and sewer utilities, he says, are already tailored to widespread growth.
“Roads are not what cause development; zoning is what causes development. You don’t want to wait to build a road until you actually need one,” he says. “If you think Bohicket is dangerous now, imagine what it’ll be like when you get all that traffic.”
As the greenway’s fate rests in the hands of County Council, Seabrook will continue backing Kiawah in corralling supporters and dispelling myths about the controversial corridor, says Seabrook’s Reed, who confirmed the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association is considering committing an additional $5,000 in the coming months to Kiawah’s community association.
“I think in order for this to happen, the people on Johns Island have to want it to happen,” he says. “Those that are against it, though they’re louder.”