2014 News for Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet
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Waccamaw River: Industrial park raises debate over jobs and environment

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Officials with Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority, Santee Cooper and Horry County asked residents of Bucksport and environmentalists to trust them while they build an industrial park on the Waccamaw River.

Most left a public hearing hosted by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control at Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority headquarters near Conway Monday unconvinced that a proposal to bring marine industries to a 195-acre development on the river would be worth risking their peaceful way of life or the region’s water, land and air.

Plans include construction of docks and piers and a road connecting the marina to Highway 701 with a 50-foot buffer from nearby residential properties.

“When the dollar moves in, it doesn’t care where it pushes and shoves,” said Bucksport resident William Gause.

Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council, said the industrial park will improve the lives of residents, their children and grandchildren. “It’s about jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said. “That’s what this whole thing has been about. Jobs get rid of crime.”

He said Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority has been a good steward of the land as it brought water and sewer to the county. “I promise they are not going to do anything to damage the quality of life,” he said. “I grew up on that river. I raised my children on that river. I will personally make sure nothing happens to that river.”

Lazarus said he believes all parties can coexist at Bucksport. “We’ve got to give hope to our children,” he said. “The only way we can have hope is to create jobs.”

Barry Jurs, a board member of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said the Bucksport site is unique on the Eastern Seaboard. “It’s a great opportunity there,” he said. “No other location offers what this site has for a barge operation.”

Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority and its partner in the project, state-owned electric utility Santee Cooper, must receive permits from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and Army Corps of Engineers. The Winyah Chapter of the Sierra Club called for a public hearing on the proposal. President Bo Ives said Sierra Club members are concerned over the 40,000 cubic yards of dredge material to be removed from the river, how it will be transported and the spoils site. Ives said there has been no mitigation plan offered for impact to wetlands where fish and shrimp spawn and grow.

Michael Corley, attorney with the S.C. Environmental Law Project, said Lazarus could not personally guarantee the health of the river once construction gets started. “This is all speculation and lip service about jobs,” he said. “I haven’t seen any proof backing up these claims. You can say something as many times as you want to, but that doesn’t make it true. Where is the evidence to back up the promises to the Bucksport community? This rests on a proposal from seven years ago when a boat builder came looking for a site. If we are a community that values clean drinking water, wants utility companies that charge and spend responsibly and opposes special interest projects that benefit the few, we must question the wisdom of this proposed industrial marina.”

Corley said a proposed use for the property was the manufacture of oversized, excessive load cargo that cannot be transported by road or rail. “There’s not a single product that fits that description,” he said. “They are asking to use our river, your community.”

Corley said the proposed industrial park is near protected property owned or managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Across the river are the Bucksport and Oliver Wildlife Management Areas, part of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.

“It’s impossible for DHEC to determine the water quality impacts over the life of the project,” he said.

Corley proposed a “reasonable middle ground” of allowing the infrastructure and pier pilings to be installed and rejecting the dredging until it is needed.

“It doesn’t work that way,” said Mike Wooten, an engineer and member of the South Carolina Transportation Commission. He said industrial prospects want to see finished sites when they are shopping for locations. “It has to be the right fit for an industry,” Wooten said. “It takes time, effort and a lot of smart people to attract an industry.”

Wooten said he lives 5.5 miles downstream from the proposed industrial park and isn’t worried about environmental damage. “I have a great deal of faith in Grand Strand Water and Sewer,” he said. “I know they care deeply about the environment.”

The S.C. Wildlife Federation, the Coastal Conservation League and the Winyah Rivers Foundation and Waccamaw Riverkeeper expressed no such faith and opposed the permit for the industrial site.

“The conservation organizations call on Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority to withdraw the permit and conduct an environmental assessment to fully inform DHEC, the Corps, the Bucksport community and the public, on the purpose of this project, its future uses and development and the direct and cumulative impacts the implemented plan will have on the human and natural environment,” said Nancy Cave, north coast director of the Coastal Conservation League. “To do otherwise, DHEC and the Corps will be making a decision influenced by politics, not informed by the law.”

Fred Richardson executive director of Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority, said there’s no need for an environmental assessment on plans for the property, formerly the Bucksport marina, purchased for $3.5 million in 2010.

Richardson said the previous owner had gone through the permitting process for a condominium proposal. That defunct project included similar dredging and construction. Richardson said the authority also has completed the permitting process for its existing water plant and a sewer treatment plant under construction at the site.

“I don’t see the need,” Richardson said, “but there is a regulatory process that we are following. The regulators will tell us what to do, not the environmentalists.”

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