By Paul Gable
Four years ago, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus made seven commitments to voters when seeking reelection in 2014. One of those commitments was to “eliminate wasteful spending” (in county government.)
Three years later, Lazarus was leading the charge to purchase 3,729 acres of swamp land off of International Drive for $3,000 per acre, a total expenditure of nearly $12 million.
County citizens were told the land was to be used for mitigation credits for Ride III and other road projects and that excess mitigation credits from the land could be sold to other counties.
According to one council member I spoke with recently, slightly less than 1,000 acres of wetlands will be needed to mitigate wetland disturbances associated with Ride III projects.
Another council member I spoke with said he didn’t know how much of the parcel off International Drive would be needed for Ride III mitigation, but the deal was a great one because the county could sell excess credits to other counties.
I have seen offers on wetlands in the more rural, western areas of the county ranging from $1,000 per acre to $1,500 per acre.
I questioned the second council member why the county purchased the parcel off of International Drive for $3,000 per acre when wetlands further west in the county sell between 50%-67% cheaper.
After calling county staff, he told me the purchase off of International Drive was necessary so that the mitigation wetlands would be near the wetlands disturbed by Ride III projects.
I questioned how that explanation made any sense when the claim was made the county could sell excess mitigation credits to other counties where the International Drive land wouldn’t be close to the land being disturbed. Obviously, I received no answer.
Considering the contradictions in the above statements and that cheaper wetlands in the western areas of the county were ignored, one can only conclude there was some hidden agenda behind the purchase of the International Drive parcel for nearly $12 million.
Not only is this not an example of eliminating wasteful spending, it appears to be a perfect example of wasting between $6-$8 million taxpayer dollars for reasons not publicly disclosed.
Now that Lazarus is again seeking reelection, it is time for public disclosure of the hidden agenda behind that purchase.
President Donald Trump said he was going to Washington to “drain the swamp.” Here in Horry County, it appears county officials led by Lazarus are preserving and expanding the swamp at the expense of the taxpayers.