By Paul Gable
The delay in completion of International Drive can be laid directly at the feet of SC Department of Natural Resources.
I saw where a local media outlet attempted to get information on bear population in the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve from the SCDNR recently, only to be told the documents sought would cost $133.64.
Many South Carolina governments and their associated agencies attempt to hide behind the clause in the FOIA law that allows them to charge requesters for the cost of providing the informatiion. They frankly hope the cost won’t be paid and the information will stay secret.
Our own Horry County Solid Waste Authority is one of the worst transgressors.
But, this response to a request that has direct bearing on the continuing delay over permitting for International Drive was to be expected.
Specifically, SC Department of Natural Resources officials have, seemingly, intentionally held up finishing and paving the road bed of International Drive for over 10 years.
Initially the SCDNR attempted to keep Horry County from even considering expanding International Drive from its original dirt track through the woods into a passable, two lane road because of alleged red cockaded woodpeckers supposedly nesting in the right of way.
It was ludicrous, but underneath lay a bigger problem – for whatever reason, SCDNR did not want the road built.
After several years of being stalled, the county managed to solve problem by changing the position of the International Drive right of way to avoid the alleged woodpecker habitat.
As the county got into serious planning and acquired the funds to complete International Drive, SCDNR shifted its concerns to black bears in the woods near the road. This included forcing the county to plan for bear crossing tunnels underneath the road, raising the cost of construction and further delaying the start.
This SCDNR roadblock was, again, ridiculous. By this logic, most roads in Horry County, at least west of the waterway, should include bear crossing tunnels.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Vaught, a strong supporter of the International Drive project, asked a meeting of Horry County Council the question, “Where is a black bear going to cross the road?” He provided the answer in his own inimitable style, “Any damn where he pleases!”
General Vaught spent 38 years dealing with the largest bureaucracy in America, the US Department of Defense, but he considered the SCDNR objections and roadblocks among the most ridiculous he had ever seen.
While Vaught’s comments drew considerable laughter at the council meeting, they also pinpointed the real problems with the International Drive project – SCDNR was putting up one bogus roadblock after another to hold up the project.
Vaught (pictured with this story) was such a strong, consistent supporter for the International Drive project, a completed portion of International Drive in the Carolina Forest area was renamed by Horry County Council to “Lt. Gen. James B. Vaught Highway.”
Recently, with Ride II projects winding down and completion of the International Drive project apparently on the horizon, the bear issue was again raised by SCDNR and their allies in the Coastal Conservtion League in order to further delay work on the road project.
International Drive is important to the citizens of Carolina Forest. When completed, it will provide a back way out of Carolina Forest to Hwy 90. It will serve to help reduce traffic on U.S. 501 and S.C. 31 especially during times of emergency evacuation.
Horry County officials want the road built. It is one of the final projects in the Ride II plan, but it keeps getting delayed because of interference by state bureaucrats.