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Politics: Pawleys median becomes battleground in House race
By Jason Lesley
S.C. House candidate Vida Miller is hoping the passions over the Highway 17 median project that carried challenger Steve Goggans to victory in a Republican primary for Georgetown County Council are still burning among voters. Construction is scheduled to begin before election day, Nov. 4.
She told a group of supporters Monday at her shop, Gray Man Gallery, that incumbent District 108 Rep. Stephen Goldfinch failed to help a coalition of business owners and private citizens that opposed the plan and offered a compromise.
“I’ll be the first to say this issue is personal for me,” Miller said. “I know how much this median project is going to hurt the citizens and small businesses of this area. And, for the life of me, I’ll never understand why Rep. Goldfinch refused to stand up for his constituents when we asked for his help.”
Goldfinch said the die was cast by the time he came on the scene in 2012, adding that Miller was chairman of the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study policy committee a decade ago when Highway 17 improvements were first approved. “If Vida really wanted to stop the project,” Goldfinch said, “she could have stopped it 10 years ago. I don’t know why she wants to poke her hand in this hornets’ nest.”
Miller said she voted for funding improvements to Highway 17 from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown as a member of GSATS but was off the board by the time the state Department of Transportation presented a design proposal to eliminate the center turn lane on Highway 17 between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive by constructing a concrete median.
“Instead of standing up for the rights of the more than 3,000 residents and 160 small businesses that signed a petition asking for a simple redesign of the proposed median plan,” Miller said, “Rep. Goldfinch, who is the vice chairman of the decision-making GSATS transportation committee, refused to speak out. In fact, the official minutes of the committee meeting show Rep. Goldfinch literally said nothing when the people and businesses of this community asked for help: not a sentence, not a word, not a syllable. And as a result we are now going to be stuck with a Highway 17 median that’s bad for business, bad for people, bad for public safety and bad for every citizen that believes government should be accountable to the people it serves.”
Goldfinch said he brought all the parties together at his law office in Murrells Inlet trying to resolve the issue. Attending were County Council Members Bob Anderson and Jerry Oakley, Don’t Strip the Neck representatives Goggans David Gundling and Mindy McVay, DOT Commissioner Mike Wooten, DOT project manager Leah Quattlebaum and Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments assistant executive director Mark Hoeweler. “We had a three-hour conversation — it might have been closer to four — on this whole issue,” Goldfinch said. “The bottom line was that County Council does have the authority to send a resolution to GSATS asking to divert the funds or stop the project. The problem with that is County Council, as a whole, did not want to do that. They would have lost the money. I’m sure other members in GSATS would have loved to have that money. If I, as a state representative, was to speak up and yank millions of dollars out from under Georgetown County and put it up for grabs by Horry County, that would be setting a precedent that would be very, very dangerous. I’m not sure anybody would have liked that.”
Miller said it is too late to change the first phase of the median project but she could influence the second phase from Waverly to the South Causeway as a member of GSATS and the local delegation. “I would give local people an ear,” she said. “The most important thing I could do is listen and come up with a design that helps all of us who live here and work here.”
Goldfinch and Miller will each address the annual meeting of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations Tuesday at Litchfield by the Sea.