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Highway 17: As landscaping expands, county’s role may follow

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Representatives of the four groups responsible for maintaining the landscaped median on Highway 17 through the Waccamaw Neck are discussing potential means of combining their efforts.

Tom Leis, chairman of the Litchfield Beautification Foundation board, said spokesmen for the Garden City Beach Community Association, Murrells Inlet 2020 and the Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program agreed to get prices from their contractors to meet the Litchfield median standards of mowing, trimming and daily trash pickup.

“That’s the Cadillac of specs,” said Leo Harootyan, chairman of the Pawleys Island median group. “That’s still in discussion.”

Leis said Horry County has taken over maintenance of the landscaped medians around Myrtle Beach rather than let it be done piecemeal with accommodations taxes. Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway didn’t dismiss the idea of the county taking over median maintenance on the Waccamaw Neck. He cautioned, however, that the county’s standards might not be as high as those at present.

Talks to consolidate the median work and achieve an economy of scale sprang from the reluctance of the county Accommodation Tax Advisory Committee to fully fund requests for new plantings and mowing last spring. The committee had more than $100,000 in requests from the four groups for the median.

Garden City Beach Community Association got its full request of $14,220 for mowing, trimming and trash pickup along Highway 17 at the Georgetown-Horry county line. Murrells Inlet 2020 got its requested $16,934 for a 3.6-mile segment of the median between Highway 707 and South Wesley Road. The panel recommended not funding the Pawleys Island request for $15,591 for new landscape pods while granting $21,030 for maintenance. It reduced Litchfield’s request for maintenance on its main 3.5-mile segment from $25,000 to $16,104 and granted its full $7,500 to maintain a .3-mile portion south of Brookgreen Gardens in order to meet a similar stretch being mowed by garden employees.

Representatives of the Litchfield Beautification Foundation and the Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program have said they will go back to the tax advisory committee in the fall seeking to get the money they were denied in the spring.

The price of maintaining the median is only going to grow. New concrete medians between Waverly Drive and Baskervill Road will have some landscaping. Both the Litchfield and Pawleys Island groups have made it clear they won’t agree to maintain it without guarantees of funding from the county. Harootyan said he has an estimate of $18,000 a year for maintenance of the new median’s landscaping between Waverly and Martin Luther King Road.

The Pawleys Island group plans to install four new pods north of Pawleys Plantation and perhaps add six more if it gets funding in the fall, Harootyan said. Long term, he would like to see the landscaped median run as far south as Hog Heaven. “That’s about as far south as Pawleys Island can go,” he said.

Leis said he feels confident the Litchfield Beautification Foundation is in good hands and will continue to maintain its area after he leaves his post at the end of the year. “We’ve got a good set of volunteers who are working real hard on fund-raising,” he said. “I really don’t have a concern about the future of our group.”

The Litchfield foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization and raises more than $80,000 a year from individuals and merchants. Its request for accommodations taxes fills out the budget. The advisory committee questioned the Litchfield group’s policy of setting aside money to replace the median plants in case of a hurricane in reducing its award last spring. Foundation representatives said that was unfair.

That set into motion the movement to consolidate the efforts. Traction, however, has been hard to find. “It’s not dead but it’s limping along right now,” Leis said. “That’s frustrating for me. I’d like to get something done.”

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