If you were alive and paying attention in 2011, you saw a global economy still hanging on in dire straits, a spate of unrelated child sexual abuse scandals in the U.S., and the re-election of a local mayor who has promised his fourth decade in office will be his last. Maybe you saw cause for hope. Maybe you zoned out and missed parts of what happened. Maybe you saw reason to believe that the Mayans were right about the world ending in 2012.
Whichever way you interpret them, here are the top 10 local stories from the year that was:
10. James Island’s fourth attempt at incorporation
They just won’t give up. The former Town of James Island, which has been fighting for state recognition since 1992, is now an amalgam of county land and parcels annexed by the City of Charleston. In November, 1,800 residents and several local leaders signed a petition to the Secretary of State asking — for the fourth time — for permission to incorporate.
Former James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey has said that Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. has a vendetta against the town’s repeated efforts. So, it seems, does fate. Could 2012 be James Island’s year of rebirth?
9. Cruise ship debate
In a feud that has garnered national news coverage, two Charleston neighborhood associations and the Coastal Conservation League are suing Carnival Cruise Lines for, among other things, breaking the downtown building-height ordinance. Never mind the fact that the masts of tall ships once dwarfed the Holy City skyline, or the fact that hotels see $108,000 in additional revenue every time a cruise ship begins and ends its voyage in Charleston.
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. has called the lawsuit “outrageous” and “abusive;” he even went as far as to throw the city in as a co-defendant with Carnival. And he has stood by the State Ports Authority’s plan to revamp the passenger terminal at Union Pier rather than consider using the Columbus Street terminal farther north, ignoring entreaties from community leaders at City Council meetings.
8. Occupy Charleston
We know, we know. How can a couple dozen people loitering in Marion Square for no concrete reason be a top story of the year? Well, the occupiers certainly polarized onlookers enough to warrant a spot on the Top 10. Whether the protest movement warmed the cockles of your bleeding heart, or whether it inspired you to drive by the park and yell, “Get a job, hippies,” you wanted to know if the occupiers could make it through the night without getting arrested. And you wanted to see if they could succeed at achieving … whatever it is they want to achieve. Jury’s still out on that one, but the occupiers say they’re here to stay.
7. I-526 expansion
The state Department of Transportation plans to extend Interstate 526 from its current terminus in West Ashley to Johns Island and James Island, feeding into the James Island Connector. The extra mileage could help ease traffic jams and pave the way for more efficient hurricane evacuations. Some folks in the county don’t want the highway intruding on their turf; others want an all-out expressway. Unfortunately, state government is focusing on a plan that neither party really wants: a low-speed parkway.
6. Boeing and the NLRB
When the aerospace giant Boeing Company decided to build its newest Dreamliner assembly plant in nearly-union-free South Carolina, the National Labor Relations Board called foul. The first place the wide-body passenger jets were assembled was in union-entrenched Everett, Wash., and the NLRB saw the expansion in North Charleston as a slight to union workers. In April, the NLRB sued Boeing.
On Dec. 9, two days after Boeing agreed to build the 737 Max jet at a union plant in Washington, the NLRB dropped the lawsuit. In the meantime, conservative politicians from Nikki Haley to Newt Gingrich used the court case as an opportunity to bash unions as enemies of commerce.
5. Downtown arson
There have been about 60 suspicious house fires on the peninsula since 2003, including a rash of five in late June and July this year. If one arsonist is behind them all, he or she is clearly a master of the getaway. Many of the fires have started on the porches of old homes, with garbage or upholstered furniture acting as kindling.
On Dec. 9, the City of Charleston doubled its reward from $25,000 to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible. Call 1-800-92ARSON (1-800-922-7766) with tips, or call 911 if you see something suspicious happening in your neighborhood.
4. Keith Summey vs. the Rail
Back in 2002, the State Ports Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of North Charleston saying that new rail lines would not cut through the northern end of the Navy Yard and Mayor Keith Summey’s pet projects, Park Circle and the revitalized Old Village downtown area. Now the SPA, and state government in general, seem to be ignoring that memorandum.
So Summey sued the state. Thus far, Gov. Nikki Haley has done zilch in response, so it might be a while yet before we get a concrete response and development can start back up on the blighted Navy Yard. When the City Paper tracked Haley down at a gas station on East Bay Street several months ago, she said she had told Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt about the Navy Yard negotiations, “I want it done yesterday.” That was Sept. 2. Is it yesterday yet?
3. Mitchell Hollon’s death on the James Island Connector
Statewide, there are about 12 to 16 bike fatalities per year. But sometimes it takes the death of a high-profile member of the community to get people talking seriously about making our roads safe for bicyclists. Last year, that person was civic leader Edwin Gardner. This year, it was Medical University of South Carolina anesthesiologist Mitchell Hollon.
There is still no safe way to ride your bike over the Ashley River, but the plan to close down a lane of bridge traffic for that purpose has finally gotten approval from the S.C. Department of Transportation. For a few months after Hollon died in July, bikes were a hot-button issue. Let’s not lose focus.
2. Joe Riley’s re-election
Joseph P. Riley Jr. made a promise while running for his 10th term as mayor of Charleston: By the time he leaves office in 2015, he will get started on fixing flooding issues on the Septima P. Clark Expressway — a.k.a. the Crosstown — and secure the $154 million it will cost to get the job done. We’ll hold him to that.
The City Paper decided to buck tradition and endorse one of Riley’s opponents in November, City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie. The decision was about more than just the three-and-a-half decades Riley spent dragging his feet on fixing the perennially flooded roadway; it was about how he handled his latest campaign. As Riley accused his anonymous critics of “devilment” and held press conferences demanding that they show their faces, we saw an angrier, less genteel Mayor Joe than we did in the olden days.
1. Skip ReVille
Louis Neal “Skip” ReVille, 32, has spent most of his adult life surrounded by children, whether in his role as a coach, teacher, or church youth group volunteer. Since his arrest in Mt. Pleasant in October, he has been charged with nine counts of child molestation, and more charges may be on the way in Charleston, Summerville, and Hanahan.
The question in stories like these is always “What could we have done to stop him earlier?” For starters, the Citadel could have contacted police when a former summer camp participant came forward in 2007 with allegations of sexual misconduct by ReVille. If the claims of a lawsuit against Pinewood Preparatory School are true, then the private school could have done more to ensure ReVille did not spend time alone with his students as an English teacher.