News | July 14, 2023

Phillips Community reached compromise on Highway 41, now faces opposition

Phillips Community leader Richard Habersham is pictured along Oliver Brown Road in Mount Pleasant. SELC is helping the Phillips Community push back against a harmful highway expansion that would cause flooding and other problems in their historic community. (Photo by Gavin McIntyre)

This week marked the end of a public comment period on state and federal approvals authorizing the Highway 41 project to go forward. While many support the newest plan that balances community preservation and environmental protection, opponents are trying to keep the project, called the “Road to Compromise,” from reaching the finish line.  

A result of years of intensive public engagement, Highway 41’s equitable solution to traffic and pedestrian safety concerns is now being threatened, putting pressure on the Phillips community once again. 

Our community has been fighting five lanes for years… We are ready to move forward with the plan to protect our historic community for generations to come.

Richard Habersham, Phillips Community Association President
Richard Habersham holds a handmade fishing net his neighbor made in the 1970’s.

The Phillips community, located outside Charleston, was founded by freed people just after the Civil War on the former site of the Phillips Plantation. Bisected by Highway 41 in the 1940s, the community faced a proposal in 2020 to widen the highway to five lanes, which would have significantly impacted properties and the community, placing new highway infrastructure close to Phillips residents’ doorsteps, and doubling down on the environmental injustice first caused by the highway almost a century ago.  

After significant pushback from Phillips residents and partners, as well as hundreds of county residents, the county released and unanimously voted to approve a revised plan, the “Compromise Alternative,” that dramatically reduced impacts to the Phillips community and balanced environmental protection and community preservation.

While many community members, conservation groups, and area nonprofits support the Compromise Alternative, opposition has been expressed by some residents living near Highway 41.  

“Our community has been fighting five lanes for years, and we’re happy with the Compromise Alternative,” said Richard Habersham, president of the Phillips Community Association. “We are ready to move forward with the plan to protect our historic community for generations to come.”  

Listen to the episode of our podcast Broken Ground below to hear more directly from Habersham.

While some opposition claims the newest plan will harm the environment, prominent local conservation groups support the plan as it minimizes environmental impacts, protects the historic Phillips community, and spreads impacts evenly among all communities near Highway 41. 

Three gravestones can be found in a wooded area around Parkers Island Cemetery Park in the Phillips Community’s Rivertowne neighborhood.

Stephanie Cretté, Park West resident and Director of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at Clemson, supports the Compromise Alternative, citing Phillips’ willingness to work together with the county to create a plan that works for everyone and balances community preservation and environmental impacts. Park West is one of the communities off Highway 41 that will also see some impacts from the project. 

“The Phillips community has given input from the very beginning and came to the table with solutions,” said Dr. Cretté. “We already cut their property in half once. We need to remember the history of the project and minimize impacts to their land, history, and people.”  

In comparing the Compromise Alternative to “Alternative 1,” the original five-lane widening proposal, environmental groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Coastal Conservation League support the alternative for its more equal distribution of new lanes among all communities using Highway 41, its reduced impacts to the floodplain, and its potential to minimize harm to the history, cohesion, and culture of the Phillips community.

It also creates an opportunity to redesign multimodal access and solve the pedestrian safety problems created by Highway 41.  

Phillips isn’t creating the traffic, yet they’re willing to share the burden of the highway widening. Moving forward with the Compromise Alternative will help address traffic and pedestrian safety, right past wrongs, and work toward breaking the cycle of environmental injustice first created by Highway 41 nearly a century ago.

Emily Wyche, SELC Staff Attorney

On Monday, SELC submitted comments on behalf of the Phillips Community Association, the Coastal Conservation League, Historic Charleston Foundation, the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, Preservation Society of Charleston, and the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce pushing for permit approval and defending against the opposition that ignores the history of the project and the importance of this historic settlement community.

Help us support this balanced plan by emailing the Highway 41 project team in support of the Compromise Alternative at [email protected].