I-73, Indian Wells Controversies Highlight Council Agenda

By Paul Gable

The agenda for Tuesday night’s regular meeting of Horry County Council has only two items of consequence on it.

Under Old and New Business, council will discuss the Financial Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation for the I-73 project.

The agreement has been in effect since December 2018 when it was signed by former administrator Chris Eldridge for the county after receiving council approval to do so. However, the real date for its beginning is the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2019.

Generally the agreement provides that Horry County will provide up to $25 million per year from Hospitality Fee revenues to fund the construction of I-73 within Horry County (the Project) and SCDOT will oversee the project from design through construction.

The written agreement states, “SCDOT shall provide an Annual Work Plan to the county on the activities proposed by March 31 that the county shall approve prior to June 30 before commencing work in the succeeding fiscal year.”

SCDOT provided a work plan for next fiscal year which allots $6 million for engineering services and $6.5 million for right of way acquisition. Council has yet to act on that work plan, but there is NO money in the upcoming budget to pay for it.

The plan was for Horry County to provide up to $25 million per year from 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenues collected countywide as funding. Since March 2019, the county has been sued by the cities over hospitality fee collections and there is no guarantee at this time how much, if any, of the countywide 1.5% fee revenue will be available to the county in the next or ensuing fiscal years.

However, Section V of the agreement, “Payments by the County”, states,  “The County shall maintain an account balance which shall be sufficient to cover the Project expenses for the relevant fiscal year including annual payments to the consultants, contractors or SCDOT…”

In addition, Section III D of the agreement states, “Nor shall the County’s prior approval be required for any right-of-way acquisition agreement or consultant agreement for work of the Project provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan.”

Combine the SCDOT commitments that can be made without prior approval from the county with a sentence from Section VI that deals with default, “In the event of default by the County on funds advanced by SCDOT hereunder…”, and it appears the county can be on the hook for $12.5 million immediately after July 1, 2019, funds it doesn’t currently have budgeted, unless council moves to cancel the agreement.

This agreement and the I-73 project is closely tied to the ‘Good Ole Boy’ network in Horry County. Can council afford to ignore the problems with the agreement and commit funds it doesn’t have to satisfy special interests? We’ll have the answer Tuesday night.

The Indian Wells rezoning is scheduled for first reading for the fifth time. Previously there has been one denial followed by three deferrals after the rezoning request was modified from that which was denied.

Opponents of the rezoning, visible by their distinctive red shirts, have shown up at each prior meeting in force.

The owner of the property, Founders Group International, and by mortgage assignment its principal owner Dan Liu apparently need the rezoning in order to sell the property to a developer for approximately $10 million.

But Liu has his own problems, he is a fugitive from China, wanted by the Jiangsu Province General District Attorney Office, still residing in Horry County with an expired visa and revoked passport, according to information received by Grand Strand Daily.

According to court documents from the trial of one of Liu’s former partners in China, all of the Founders Group International money that was used to purchase golf course and other properties in the area was stolen by Liu from approximately 90,000 investors in Yiqian Funding, a peer to peer funding scheme in China that Liu controlled.

Should council even be considering a rezoning for the profit of a fugitive Chinese national over the wishes of the citizens of Horry County? We’ll see.

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