Well, it was a better year than 2011. Last year, the top news stories included a rash of house fires, a bicyclist's death on the James Island Connector, and the horrific unfolding of the Skip ReVille child molestation case. This year, police have arrested a suspect on charges of arson, the City of Charleston is considering how best to re-open the Connector as a safe bike route, and ReVille is safely behind bars after pleading guilty to 23 indictments. Here are the biggest news stories from the year that was.
Whether he's serenading fans at RiverDogs games or slinging peanuts to tourists on the City Market, Anthony Wright is part man, part cultural institution. And in his role as the one and only Tony the Peanut Man, he has always boiled peanuts in his own backyard in West Ashley. So when his equipment caught fire one night in April, doing an estimated $10,000 in damage, Charlestonians did the love-thy-neighbor thing. Anonymous donors dropped off new equipment at his house, cash donations poured in, and everyone from the RiverDogs to O-Ku to Big Gun Burger Shop hosted fundraiser events. We're happy to report the Peanut Man is back in business.
You've got to love living in a town where people care enough to pack a Board of Architectural Review meeting and argue about aesthetics. When renowned Portland, Ore., architect Brad Cloepfil unveiled his design for a new Clemson classroom building at Meeting and George streets in October, it won praise from some and outright scorn from others. One sculptor actually said — to Cloepfil's face — that the thoroughly modern white structure in the drawings looks like a Walmart designed by Martians. Ultimately, the BAR approved Cloepfil's design, taking the stance that the peninsula is not a museum.
The image of college students paddling an air mattress down a flooded stretch of Morris Street was a reminder that our downtown drainage system needs a lot of work. Fortunately, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. decided that his tenth and final term in office would be the one in which he scraped together the $154 million in funding to install new drainage pipes and pumps under the perennially flooded Crosstown. In March, the city is expected to begin the contractor bidding process on the project's second of four phases, which includes drainage improvements from the end of the Crosstown to the Ashley River.
Generally speaking, Folly Beach is a free-wheeling place. Lots of friendly hippies, laid-back bars, and — you know — there's a beach. And until July of this year, you could drink on that beach. That's the month when a throng of Independence Day revelers on Folly cranked their go-go music, drank their go-go juice, and broke out in something like a riot when police came to break it up. Eyewitnesses reported threats of violence, deafening sound systems, public nudity, and a litany of other jerk-o-riffic offenses, prompting Folly Beach City Council to pass a temporary open-container ban that they made permanent with a 4-3 vote in August. Thanks a lot, out-of-state beach bros, for killing the fun for everyone else.
In the past decade, we've seen more than 50 suspicious house fires on the peninsula. Many of them were started on porches, those narthexes of Southern hospitality. It's still not clear whether a single arsonist is behind all of the fires, but Charleston police arrested one suspect in November. Kenneth Boone, a 55-year-old construction worker who lives in Hampton Park Terrace, is charged with one count of third-degree arson at 48 Montagu St. and one count of solicitation to commit arson, as well as two counts of third-degree arson in Hollywood. It's a start. But if you live downtown, you know the drill: Keep your eyes peeled at night in case an arsonist is still on the loose, and if you see someone acting suspicious, either call the arson tip hotline at 1-800-92-ARSON or dial 911.
When Sen. Jim DeMint announced earlier this month that he would step down in January to take the helm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the interwebs buzzed with predictions of who Gov. Nikki Haley would appoint to replace the Tea Party titan. In an informal poll, City Paper readers overwhelmingly picked former College of Charleston math professor Herb Silverman, the president of the Secular Coalition for America who had the backing of British scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, while TV personality and Charleston native son Stephen Colbert took a distant second. But never mind all that. Haley predictably chose Rep. Tim Scott, another Tea Party favorite. Tough luck, Herb.
Also known as James Island Episode IV: A New Hope. After three previous attempts at incorporation fell through due to legal challenges from the City of Charleston, a markedly smaller and checkerboarded Town of James Island planted its flag in May, electing its town council in a special July election. And this time, Charleston's Mayor Riley promised he wouldn't make a stink in court, so the town is here to stay.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey didn't want new railroad lines resultant from a port expansion to run through his pet development projects on the Navy Yard and in Park Circle, and the city sued to stop that from happening. In the settlement from the lawsuits in December, North Chuck got $14.6 million out of the deal, and the state got to keep a modified version of the dreaded northern train route. The net result for Park Circlers is that there is going to be a lot more train traffic crossing busy streets like North Rhett Avenue, and there will maybe, hopefully, be overpasses to prevent gridlock — but it all depends on what two teams of engineers hired by the state and the city agree is best. Fingers crossed.
Any time a public body discusses the controversial plan to extend Interstate 526 across Johns and James islands, it could easily be pay-per-view material. In fact, if you were to lock the Nix 526 crowd in a cage with the Finish 526ers, you'd probably see more knee bars and triangle chokes than in an actual UFC fight. In a four-hour rhetorical slugfest this month, Charleston County Council officially took on the highway project, with members casting a dramatic 5-4 vote to support the S.C. Department of Transportation's proposed "Alternative G" route. This was a reversal from April 2011, when the council voted unanimously to oppose Alternative G. Expect more political jiu jitsu on this topic in 2013.
In September, a hacker managed to swipe 6.4 million taxpayers' data from the S.C. Department of Revenue database, thanks to an unencrypted, weakly password-protected cybersecurity system that probably makes your grandma's iPad look like Fort Knox by comparison. And as City Paper columnist Mat Catastrophe pointed out, Gov. Haley's response was the equivalent of a Folly Beach frat boy's drunken "Come at me, bro!" In a press conference, she told law enforcement officers to find the perpetrator and "slam him to the wall," and she declared, "Don't mess with South Carolina." Moral of the story: Cut the tough talk and just listen to your IT guy next time.