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Environment: Either form or wetlands filled incorrectly

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Fill placed in wetlands along Highway 17 in Litchfield violates federal regulations, even though the work was done with state and federal approval, attorneys claim.

The federal agency that approved the work said the claim is based on faulty paperwork.

The S.C. Environmental Law Project last month asked the Army Corps of Engineers to review the work, which was completed almost two years ago. The reason the work wasn’t challenged at the time was that the permit request to the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management didn’t indicate that wetlands would be filled. “That would be the trigger for us,” said Amy Armstrong, president of the law project.

After hearing complaints about the fill, which is located on a parcel on the southwest corner of the intersection of Highway 17 and Ford Road, the law project asked for information about the permit from Coastal Resources. It took six months to get an answer, Armstrong said.

According to the state permit, the property owner, Tag Ventures of Charlotte, wanted to fill three-quarters of an acre of wetlands on a 2.8 acre lot. The work was listed as “site preparation.”

“This has been permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers,” according to the permit. “All mitigation fees have been paid.”

Although on the west side of the highway, the property drains into Clubhouse Creek, the saltwater creek behind Litchfield Beach.

The Corps of Engineers authorized the wetlands fill under a nationwide permit. But Armstrong said the project doesn’t meet the criteria of the permit.

The nationwide permit limits fill to half an acre and it doesn’t allow fill of wetlands adjacent to tidal waters, such as Clubhouse Creek.

The Environmental Law Project submitted a violation report to the Corps of Engineers. It told the agency that “we have at least two clients that are interested in this project,” Michael Corley, the project’s staff attorney, wrote.

After reviewing the report, Tommy Fennel, chief of the corps office in Conway, said “it appears there’s a disconnect” between the federal and state permits.

The corps approved filling of .49 acre of wetlands under the nationwide permit. The agency doesn’t consider Clubhouse Creek to be adjacent to the wetlands, Fennel said.

Although the state permit shows .76 acre of wetlands would be filled, Fennel said that was the area that was preserved. “There could have been some pencil strokes in the wrong place” on the state permit, he said. “The fill was surveyed prior to being constructed.”

Corley said this week he hadn’t heard from the corps, although he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the permit documents.

“I’ll reserve judgement,” he said of Fennel’s findings.

The issue for the Environmental Law Project isn’t just the wetlands on the Tag Ventures site. They are part of a larger wetland area along the highway.

“If all the owners fill .5 acres it will disappear completely,” Corley said.

Despite flooding problems along the highway, wetlands keep disappearing, he said.

Even if the concern about the Ford Road site ends up being a clerical error, “it doesn’t alleviate my concern for the larger wetland,” Corley said.

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