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Environment: Horry road dispute spills over into Georgetown streets

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Grand Strand residents brought their protest against two environmental protection groups to Georgetown this week in hopes of shaming them into dropping legal proceedings that are delaying the widening and paving of a dirt road running along Lewis Ocean Bay Natural Heritage Preserve.

About two dozen residents from the communities of Hillsborough, Glenmore and Heritage Preserve picketed the offices of the Coastal Conservation League on Front Street and the South Carolina Environmental Law Project on Highmarket wearing orange shirts and carrying placards demanding International Drive be paved.

“It’s been an arduous process,” said rally organizer Bill Beideman, “and we need the road badly up there.” He said community residents have been waiting to have their road paved under Horry County’s Ride 2 tax plan since 2010. State, federal and local agencies had signed off on the permits and they were ready to go to the Army Corps of Engineers when Armstrong, representing the Coastal Conservation League and the Wildlife Federation, filed an objection with the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Her request was denied and she has until Monday to bring suit in the Environmental Law Court.

“We anticipate that will probably happen,” Beidleman said. “We need to get our voice heard.”

Beidleman said getting the road paved is a safety issue for residents. It will make the drive to Grand Strand Hospital 10 miles shorter, he said. Fire and rescue teams would also benefit from the new road in reaching emergencies.

Armstrong said the S.C. Department of Natural Resources was granted ownership up to the middle of a dirt International Drive as part of a compromise over the Grissom Parksway interchange with Highway 31. “That would prevent Heritage Trust property from being paved,” she said. “DNR would be able to stop it.” The state agency reversed course in 2010 and agreed to grant Horry County an easement if three passageways for wildlife were installed under the road. Bears roam across Lewis Ocean Bay. “There was political pressure no doubt,” Armstrong said, “in allowing use of Heritage Trust property for a road.”

Horry County retained experts from Tennessee to examine the bears’ movement patterns and they identified three paths where they travel regularly, Armstrong said. Horry asked the Department of Natural Resources to eliminate the bear crossings and expand the road to five lanes in 2013. DNR will get a one-time payment of $122,000. There are 10 curb cuts for future development, and that is evidence that builders have been working behind the scenes, Armstrong said.

There will be fencing, but the 10 gaps will allow bears to enter the road, she said. “What we are asking is for the county to do what it promised five years ago,” Armstrong said. “It’s frustrating to try and deal with Horry County.”

The road project will destroy 24 acres of wetlands. The county is offering to buy property along the Pee Dee River in Georgetown County as mitigation. Nancy Cave, North Coast director of the Coastal Conservation League, said protecting property near Lewis Ocean Bays in the Waccamaw River watershed makes more sense. She would like to see “land bridges” for the bears to travel between protected properties and warning sensors to alert motorists on International Drive that a large animal is in the road ahead.

Armstrong said the settlement talks are continuing. She has advised her clients to accept a single crossing under the five-lane highway. “This is a case I can see an opportunity for settlement,” she said. “It would take years to resolve and that wouldn’t be in anybody’s interest. If we think the road will be paved, we should seek a resolution of acceptance. If we can’t agree, we will fight the road being paved at all.”

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