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Environment: Inlet resident is county’s first on DHEC board

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A vote in the state Senate could come as early as today to confirm Lee Hewitt of Murrells Inlet as the representative of the 7th Congressional District on the board that oversees state health and environmental policies. Hewitt, who is a former chairman of the Georgetown County Planning Commission, will be the first county resident to serve on the board of the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Hewitt last week received the unanimous approval of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee. The full Senate will now vote on the appointment.

Hewitt is broker-in-charge and co-owner of Garden City Realty. He said his interest is in the environmental side of the agency. “What I make my living at, and everyone here at the beach makes a living at, is a healthy environment,” Hewitt said.

He was approached by Gov. Nikki Haley to serve on the board. The position was created when South Carolina received an additional congressional district following the 2010 census. The term actually started in July 2012.

Hewitt said he first met Haley when she served in the House and was running for governor. “We had coffee and talked about a lot of issues,” he said. “We built a friendship from there.”

The appointment was welcomed by local environmental organizations.

Amy Armstrong, head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project, which frequently challenges DHEC permits, said she generally believes that DHEC board members should have some expertise in the areas the agency covers. “It’s definitely great to have representation from someone from Georgetown County on the DHEC board, someone who’s familiar with the resources we have,” she said.

The law project is currently appealing a permit issued to Georgetown County to allow construction of a groin on the south end of Pawleys Island. The attorneys asked the DHEC board to review the staff decision on the permit, but it declined and the issue moved to the Administrative Law Court. “It’s very unclear how the board chooses cases to hear,” Armstrong said. That’s an area where local knowledge could help, she said.

She also knows Hewitt from his work on the allocation committee that reviews environmental grant requests for the Bunnelle Foundation. “He’s very knowledgeable about the nonprofit world and the needs we have in this county,” Armstrong said.

To prepare for his confirmation hearing, Hewitt said he reviewed DHEC board minutes and dug into topics such as a tuberculosis outbreak in Greenwood, a permit issued to allow dredging of the Savannah River that drew fire from environmentalists and lawmakers and a pending suit of the state’s certificate-of-need process that has held up hospital projects. Senators left after his hearing for the state Supreme Court to hear arguments in that case.

“They just wanted to see if I had any thoughts on it,” Hewitt said. “It’s hard if you haven’t been part of the process.”

While in the Capitol he ran into Nancy Cave, north coast director for the Coastal Conservation League. “She gave me a big hug,” Hewitt said.

“I am pleased to know that somebody’s going on the board that the conservation community knows,” Cave said this week. “He is certainly aware of the issues along the coast.”

She also had some advice. “I told him I hoped he would remember his very close friend Pat Worrell who fought so hard for Murrells Inlet and the coastal area,” Cave said.

Worrell, who died in 2009, led a lengthy fight over a proposed marina project in Murrells Inlet. The Murrells Inlet 2020 revitalization group named its annual conservation award for Worrell. Like Hewitt, he was a Marion native whose family had a summer home on Murrells Inlet.

Hewitt went into real estate after graduating from what was then the University of South Carolina-Coastal Carolina. He served on a blue ribbon DHEC panel that reviewed the state’s beachfront management policies. “That’s where a lot of my interest started,” Hewitt said.

During his time on the Planning Commission, it approved the design standards for commercial buildings along Highway 17 on Waccamaw Neck. It also approved buffers between development and saltwater wetlands, and it initiated county-wide zoning.

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