By Paul Gable
Talks between Horry County officials and representatives from environmental groups over the International Drive project came to an abrupt end Monday.
The talks were aimed at attempting to find a middle ground between the two groups so that a contested hearing in Administrative Law Court on the issuance of permits for International Drive could be avoided.
The talks were initiated by Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.
Monday was the second meeting between Horry County officials and representatives from the Coastal Conservation League and SC Wildlife Federation aimed at forming some compromise that would allow the International Drive project to move forward.
The first meeting between the two groups was held August 6, 2015, with county officials coming away hopeful that a compromise could be reached that would allow construction to begin on International Drive in the near future.
That ended Monday afternoon when new demands were introduced into the discussion by Amy Armstrong, lead attorney for the SC Environmental Law Project representing the conservationists.
According to Lazarus, two new issues tanked the discussions. The first was a request for electronic signals, instead of signs, warning motorists of the possible presence of wildlife near the road as they were travelling International Drive.
However, the second request was the killer. Lazarus said the conservation groups requested that the county pay to The Nature Conservancy an amount equal to that already spent purchasing wetland mitigation credits for the project.
According to Lazarus, the amount already spent by the county on mitigation credits approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers and SCDHEC is approximately $1.6 million.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Lazarus. “They were asking us to pay another $1.6 million to The Nature Conservancy that they would use to purchase more land to protect for the movement of wildlife.”
It must be remembered that the mitigation plan for the project has already been approved. These extra requirements add no new mitigation credits and are not required by the federal and state agencies that issue permits. They appear nothing more than an effort to gain another payment to a conservation entity.
Lazarus said he terminated the meeting at that point and told the conservationists they might as well go downstairs (in the Horry County Court House) and file the papers for the Administrative Law Court hearing.
“I thought we were moving to common ground after the first meeting, but I wasn’t going to go down the road of paying them money,” Lazarus said.
The request for money for The Nature Conservancy follows a disturbing pattern that has been used by the environmentalists for the past eight years or so.
We already reported that environmental groups, including the Coastal Conservation League, requested payments of $5 million each from the SC Department of Commerce and the SC Ports Authority in order not to challenge the Boeing plant construction project and Charleston Harbor dredging project, respectively.
When I was growing up in New Jersey, the Mafia was known for demanding weekly protection payments from small businesses in order to protect them from being set on fire. This was called extortion.
I fail to see the difference.