When Joseph P. Riley Jr. was sworn into the Office of Mayor of Charleston in December 1975, the city looked a lot different than it does now. Infrastructure was lacking, the land was less green and segregation was still very prominent. His work during the last 40 years has focused on many very visible projects, including integration of public housing, creation and beautification of parks, and increased popularity of tourism and events, just to name a few. A lifelong public servant, having served six years in the South Carolina House of Representatives prior to being elected mayor, Riley has worked hard to enhance the image of Charleston, and many of those efforts involved permitting actions made by the Charleston District. Projects such as the South Carolina Aquarium, Waterfront Park, Joe Riley Stadium, the Maritime Center and the City Marina were given Department of the Army permits for their impacts to waters of the United States. Each project had its own obstacles to face, but Riley is pleased with the outcome.
“There are many judgmental decisions that have to be made [by the Corps], and those decisions are made with 100 percent determination to make the best, fairest, wisest decision possible,” said Riley. “There were so many intersections of those projects where a decision could have been made to not move forward, but the end result is majestic public places in the spring and summer months.”
One of Riley’s most visible characteristics has always been his passion for the ideas he has championed. That has been evident to District personnel over the years.
“[Riley] was always actively involved in meetings and very eloquently gave his opinion on why the project was good for Charleston,” said Tina Hadden, chief of regulatory, who has worked on projects involving Riley for the last 33 years. “He doesn’t leave it to his engineers. He’s very involved and is always extremely respectful, even if we disagree on our positions.”
One example of Riley’s commitment to the District came in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd came through the area and caused damage to the District’s office, right next to Marion Square in the heart of downtown. The hurricane caused leaks and asbestos was revealed, causing District personnel to relocate. It was very important to Riley to keep the District on the Charleston downtown peninsula.
“The presence of the Corps of Engineers in Charleston is historic and essential to the continued growth and development of our community and economy in South Carolina,” said Riley. “We know the heritage of the Corps and it’s wonderful that it has continued in Charleston. It’s been a very prideful relationship for me.”
Riley continues to advocate for the District’s work to this day, using his scarce time with President Obama to talk about the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project. Riley said that the harbor deepenings over the years have been “so important to the community” and that doing our due diligence in making the channels wider in the past is making the upcoming deepening more efficient.
Riley openly speaks about his support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an organization, calling it a “blue-chip, four-star, special part of our national government.”
“It’s just a first- rate organization to work with and we’re really proud [to have them in Charleston],” said Riley.
For 40 years, the Charleston District has been working with Mayor Riley and the City of Charleston on many projects that have led to the city’s high rankings for tourism and places to live. The District is proud to have been a part of these projects and would like to wish Mayor Riley the best in his retirement.