Tag: International Drive

International Drive Court Date Set

The International Drive project will have its day in court beginning February 16, 2016.

The scheduling order came down a few days ago from the Administrative Law Court. Three days have been set to hear the case.

The Administrative Law Court was established by a 1993 state law to allow citizens affected by the decisions of certain state agencies to challenge those actions. Previously, challenges were heard by hearing officers of the respective state agencies.

The lawsuit to be heard by the ALC was filed by the Coastal Conservation League and the SC Wildlife Federation. It challenges a decision by the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control to issue a water quality permit for construction and paving of International Drive to Hwy 90.

Think about this process for a minute.

The ALC was set up to allow citizens affected by decisions of state agencies to challenge those decisions.

The voters of Horry County passed the Ride II referendum, which listed International Drive as one of the projects on its list, in November 2006.

The citizens most affected by the International Drive project, those of Horry County, especially in the Carolina Forest and Hwy 90 residential areas, approved the construction project by referendum vote.

The Coastal Conservation League, which bills itself as working to protect the natural landscapes, abundant wildlife, clean water and quality of life in South Carolina, is not directly affected by the decision to go forward with International Drive.

In fact, I would submit the continued delaying tactics used by the CCL and its allies on the International Drive project works to reduce the quality of life of the citizens of Carolina Forest and Hwy 90.

International Drive Stalemate

A recent meeting between residents in the SC 90 area and representatives of the Coastal Conservation League highlighted the International Drive stalemate.

According to sources familiar with the meeting, homeowners in the area want the road built and the environmentalists won’t give in unless they get their way.

Their way is to add millions of dollars to the cost of the project for bear tunnels, electronic warning signals, higher fencing and additional mitigation not needed for the project at the cost of a $1.6 million payment to The Nature Conservancy.

In other words, the environmentalist tactic is to delay the project for as long as possible and to add as much additional cost as possible in the hope the road project will be abandoned.

And I don’t believe these delaying tactics are about bears in the area at all.

Fifteen years ago, the Horry County Solid Waste Authority board discussed using authority funds to pave International Drive as a means of reducing garbage truck traffic on SC 90.

The environmentalists were never heard from during these discussions.

International Drive Delays

The International Drive project is now awaiting its day in court.

According to sources familiar with the Administrative Law Court, the contested hearing before Administrative Law Judge Trip Anderson will be held sometime within the next 2-6 months.

Horry County has asked for an early hearing, but, if history on this project tells us anything, the Coastal Conservation League and its conservationist allies will delay as long as possible.

Since the SCDHEC Appeals Committee voted against a final review conference for the International Drive project, Horry County and the conservationists have had two face to face meetings and have exchanged several offers and counteroffers all to no avail.

A protest march before the Coastal Conservation League north coast office in Georgetown last month demonstrated the conservationists do not have public opinion on their side in this contest.

CCL and the SC Wildlife Federation requested a meeting with representatives of the groups that organized the protest, but that will not happen, according to sources familiar with the request.

That is probably a good thing because the typical tactic of the CCL and its allies is ‘divide and conquer.’

They haven’t counted on the determination of the homeowners in the Carolina Forest and Hwy 90 areas that will be helped by the construction of International Drive nor their unity in supporting the project.

In the filing to the ALC, the CCL and SCWF questioned whether there was a valid need for the road. They attempted to make a case that widening and other improvements to U.S. 501 are reasonable alternatives to the International Drive project. Those of us who live here know that is a ridiculous assertion.

International Drive Compromise Rejected

The Coastal Conservation League has rejected the latest effort at compromise over International Drive offered by Horry County.

According to sources familiar with the negotiations, Horry County offered a compromise that did not include bear tunnels.

Those sources say the CCL is insisting on one bear tunnel be included in the project.

According to Horry County officials, including a bear tunnel at this late date would require a total re-engineering of the project costing more than $1 million additional and would delay the start of construction for up to as much as two years.

No official agency, such as SCDOT, SCDNR, SCDHEC and the US Army Corps of Engineers, sees a need for even one bear tunnel in the project because the bear population in the area has seriously dwindled since the 2009 fire that swept through part of the Lewis Ocean Bay Preserve.

Additionally, an effort to harvest some of the remaining bear population allows for hunting of bears with a special permit during a portion of the year.

No word has been received on whether the CCL has requested a contested hearing over the International Drive project in the Administrative Law Court, but that move is expected by Horry County officials.

It is now questionable whether the CCL was ever negotiating in good faith with Horry County or whether this was just another delaying tactic since a SCDHEC committee rejected the request by the CCL for a final review of the International Drive project.

International Drive Latest

Letters are still being exchanged between Horry County and the Coastal Conservation League as the court filing deadline looms.

After the second meeting between Horry County officials and the conservationists ended abruptly with the demand of an additional $1.6 million payment from Horry County to The Nature Conservancy, Horry County sent a letter to the CCL to see if there were still possible areas of agreement.

According to sources close to the negotiations, the CCL answered with a letter and the county responded to that letter yesterday.

According to those sources, the CCL request for a $1.6 million payment from Horry County and the bear tunnels have been removed from the CCL demands.

Those two events would seem to put the two sides close enough together so that an agreement could be reached avoiding a request by the CCL for a contested hearing in Administrative Law Court.

However, as we have seen with this issue, nothing can be taken for granted.

In the meantime, the group from the Hwy 90/Carolina Forest area that went down to demonstrate in front of the CCL offices in Georgetown Wednesday is to be congratulated.

Citizens’ entrance into the political discussion that is the International Drive issue is important for both sides to understand.

The chant of “What do we want? International Drive, When do we want it? NOW” sums up the citizens’ position on the issue.

Update: International Drive and the CCL

Propaganda and dissimulation have entered the International Drive debate in the form of an email sent by the Coastal Conservation League yesterday.

Evidently opposed to the First Amendment rights of Horry County citizens who plan to picket the CCL offices today in support of International Drive, the email said, “These people are smearing the conservation community, peddling misinformation, and resorting to other nefarious tactics in the name of paving and widening International Drive in Horry County.”

These citizens are neither smearing the conservation community nor peddling misinformation!

After last week’s attempt to obtain $1.6 million from Horry County for an agreement to drop opposition to International Drive, the CCL is playing the bear card again.

One other area of propaganda must again be addressed.

The email said, “SCDNR’s original conveyance of Heritage Trust property to Horry County in 2010 for the construction of this road included the condition that underground bear passageways be included. Three years later, Horry County asked SCDNR to eliminate the underground bear passageways in exchange for a handsome sum of money that wasn’t included in the first contract.”

What the email doesn’t say is that a fired roared through the area seriously depleting the bear population in the interim between the original conveyance and the agreement to eliminate the underground passageways.

No Extortion on International Drive

Horry County Council gave a resounding NO to the possibility of giving any money to The Nature Conservancy for extra mitigation on International Drive.

The new request came up during a meeting between Horry County officials and representatives from the Coastal Conservation League and the SC Wildlife Federation.

Essentially what was asked for was the county to pay The Nature Conservancy approximately $1.6 million so that agency could purchase land to be used ostensibly for wildlife preservation.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus ended the meeting after the new demand was made.

Lazarus reported on the International Drive project during the regular council meeting Tuesday night. He said he wasn’t going to give money from the taxpayers of Horry County to a private nonprofit organization so it could buy land.

It is probably not something that could legally be done either. International Drive is one of the projects paid for by the one cent local option sales tax (Ride II).

Ride II was approved by referendum of county voters in 2006. At that time, each project with the anticipated expenses associated with it was listed in the referendum. The county has already paid for the mitigation credits required by the US Army Corps of Engineers and SCDHEC for the project.

To expend extra dollars just to please conservation groups for land that is neither associated with the project nor required for mitigation certainly seems to be in conflict with state law on capital projects sales tax.

International Drive Talks Fail

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.

Irony of Myrtle Beach City Council Seismic Testing Vote – Update

When the Myrtle Beach City Council votes on seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean later today, the result will mean nothing.

The resolution opposing seismic testing will be a statement of the sense of council, if it passes. However, local governments are not part of the decision process.

Local media reports speculate Myrtle Beach City Council is split 4-3 with Mayor John Rhodes, and council members Wayne Gray, Susan Grissom Means and Mike Chestnut opposing seismic testing while council members Randal Wallace, Phil Render and Mike Lowder reportedly support it.

But, it really doesn’t make any difference what Myrtle Beach City Council does.

SCDHEC determines consistency of permit requests with coastal zone management practices. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issues the permits.

Seismic testing uses loud blasts of sound from airguns to gather data about what oil reserves might be under the ocean floor.

The hoped for result is that seismic testing will prove oil reserves of sufficient size to justify recovery are present under the ocean floor. Those supporting testing see this result as an economic boom for the state.

Opponents of seismic testing, and later drilling, point to the potential harm to sea mammals and the ever present possibility of another Deepwater Horizon oil blowout that devastated the Gulf Coast in April 2010.

More Talks for International Drive

Yesterday’s meeting on International Drive ended with further discussions scheduled for August 17, 2015.

According to several sources who attended the meeting between Horry County officials and representatives from the Coastal Conservation League and SC Wildlife Federation, yesterday’s talks were very cordial and very open.

The sources said both sides presented several options that could be considered for a compromise on the current International Drive standoff.

“We gave each other some options and both sides are going to talk about them,” said Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus. “Hopefully when we get together on the 17th we can come to some type of agreement. If it works out, I believe everyone will be happy.”

Specifics on the options each side presented are not available. Lazarus said both sides agreed to keep those confidential until the next meeting.

Lazarus said he emphasized the importance of International Drive to the citizens of Carolina Forest and the strong support of citizens in the Carolina Forest area to getting the project completed.

The International Drive project was initially scheduled to be completed in 2013 as one of the last roads on the Ride II list of projects.