Alternate Reality and the $12 Million Swamp Land Purchase

By Paul Gable

A purported fact check by the Mark Lazarus campaign of the story I wrote on the $12 million purchase of swamp land near International Drive demonstrates an alternate reality exists in the race for the Republican nomination for council chairman.

The fact check pointed to four areas in the story that the Lazarus campaign chose to label “false.”

Let’s see. (See copy of post below)

The first two truths are a convoluted explanation of watersheds, mitigation credits and costs. What this all boils down to is that the purchase of the parcel on International Drive was completed in haste with only general ideas about what the Army Corps of Engineers will approve in a mitigation bank and what the Corps will deem wetlands disturbance areas in the Ride III projects.

No other parcel in the county was considered in the haste to purchase this parcel.

The excuse for the purchase on International Drive was used as proximity in the same watershed as the projects requiring mitigation. South Carolina mitigation is generally completed in seven major areas of the state of which the Pee Dee watershed is one. All of Horry County, except for the extreme southern region of the county, lies within the Pee Dee watershed.

There are sub-unit watersheds in the Pee Dee basin of which the Little Pee Dee and the Waccamaw River watersheds include most of the county. Mitigation is allowed between watersheds with some adjustments in credits as determined by the Corps of Engineers. There would certainly be no problem mitigating between the Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw River watersheds if it is even necessary. It is probable that lying within the larger Pee Dee watershed is enough.

Again we ask why weren’t wetlands in the western area of the county (where the cost is cheaper) considered and compared to the International Drive parcel if it was absolutely necessary for Horry County to establish a mitigation bank, which I submit it was not.

To truth three, I again submit there is a hidden agenda here that precluded consideration of any land other than the International Drive parcel despite the possibility other parcels could have provided significant savings to the county.

Truth four denies the $12 million used to purchase the International Drive parcel could have been used for other purposes in the county. It claims Ride III money was used to purchase the property when, in fact, Ride II excess funds were used. An article linked to prove the claim that the money comes from Ride III funds specifically states it was purchased with Ride II excess funds. They couldn’t even get that correct.

Twenty road projects were approved by the voters in the Ride III referendum. Nowhere in the legislation or referendum is money designated, much less approved by voters, for the establishment of a Wetlands Mitigation Bank. Some of the money on some of the projects will have to be spent on wetlands mitigation, but that is entirely different than establishing a wetlands mitigation bank for use on, not only Ride III, but also other future road projects in the county or sale of mitigation credits to other jurisdictions.

It would be illegal for the county to use Ride III funds for the entire $12 million. The county voters did not approve such an expenditure.

The amount of mitigation needed for Ride III projects is still a matter of speculation until the Corps of Engineers gives its final decisions on the various projects. But, as seen in purported “truth” answers one and two, it is expected approximately one-third of the International Drive purchase will be needed for mitigation with Ride III as I stated.

Excess Ride II funds are available to use determined by council. I submit using them for more critical needs in the county, such as hiring more first responders to mitigate the personnel shortages in the police and fire/rescue departments thereby providing better safety for county citizens, are more important than buying swamp land for mitigation.

But the chairman and his cohorts on council apparently do not see things that way. They prefer their version of spin.

Why let actual reality get in the way of a candidate’s message when alternate reality works better?

Lazarus made seven commitments to voters in his 2014 reelection campaign. Over the course of the remainder of this campaign, we will investigate how well he kept those promises.

The Lazarus for Chair post:

TRUTH ALERT: Despite what an unsourced blogger states, this land purchase was a HUGE win for Horry County taxpayers, saving millions. This property preserved 3700 acres in Carolina Forest, helping slow development in the area, create recreation opportunities for ALL citizens, and create ample wetlands mitigation credits for future use on Ride III projects. To refresh your memory, the REAL news story is below:

CLAIM: The 3700 acre purchase was wasteful spending.

TRUTH: This is long, but I think it’s important to dispel the falsehoods contained in the blog post. In order to encroach on wetlands, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers requires the purchase of wetlands mitigation for permanent conservation. It is estimated that road projects contained in Ride III, approved by the voters of Horry County, would require approximately 1,200 – 1,500 mitigation credits (the final numbers would actually depend on what the Army Corp. of Engineers says), could exceed this initial estimate. This property you purchased can generate between 2,000 and 4,000 credits for present and future use. The price for an individual credit can fluctuate, depending on market factors, including availability and demand. With a current estimate of $8,000 – $12,000 per credit, the present cost to Horry County could have been between $9,600,000 on the very low end and $18,000,000. This is the present cost and does not take into consideration the price of credits in the future, as they continue to rise. There is also a major concern that due to the diminishing availability of qualifying property in our area (i.e. wetlands in the affected watershed area), the anticipated cost would have increased significantly over time. Also true is the fact that certain companies or groups often buy speculative land with the idea that when a high-density county such as ours needs the credits, they’ll charge a premium. This was actually the case here, with some groups looking to purchase this property. The total cost for the 3700 acres was approximately $12,000,000, certainly saving the taxpayers on the front end and also saving them from the increasing cost of credits and speculative land company’s seeking to profit on the taxpayers’ dime. In addition, the extra unused credits can be used in the future when Horry County needs to build roads. The money used for this purchase was budgeted in Ride III estimates and absolutely NO brokers were used, saving additional monies. Creating our own mitigation bank puts the future of Horry County roads in our own hands.

CLAIM: You could have purchased land more cheaply in the Western part of the County.

TRUTH: This is false. Although land is cheaper in the Western part of the county, land for mitigation must often be purchased near the affected areas in the same watershed. The Western part of the County is in a different watershed. Rather than wait to see if a third-party would purchase the property, establish a mitigation bank, then hope that the credits would be priced reasonably, Horry County saw an opportunity to purchase the property and establish a mitigation bank on its own for essentially the same cost it had estimated to pay for the credits alone. Such an action would also give the County the benefit of any surplus credits generated by the property exceeding the amount necessary for RIDE III projects, which could be held by the County for other projects or sold later. Additionally, and equally as important: Not all wetlands properties qualify under Army Corp. regulations, even when they’re in the same watershed. This did, and it was a perfect fit.

CLAIM: There is a hidden agenda.

TRUTH: The only agenda is fulfilling the mandate given to Horry County Council by the voters in constructing the projects outlined in Ride III. If there is any other agenda, it is putting together a great deal for Horry County citizens and saving money.

CLAIM: You could use this money for other areas in the county budget.

TRUTH: No, this land was purchased with money collected for Ride III. To use Ride III money for any other purpose would violate the law, and, most importantly, the trust of the voters in approving Ride III.…/article_8a51d0cc-ffa7-11e7-b3…



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