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Litter and weeds compete with landscape plants in the median.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

Highway 17: Median collects litter and weeds, but no cleanup funds

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Community groups are seeking more than $50,000 to maintain portions of the Highway 17 median along Waccamaw Neck, but there are no plans yet for 1.9 miles of highway that run through the Pawleys Island business district. “It’s a mess,” said County Council Member Steve Goggans.

Portions of the Pawleys median were planted when the state Department of Transportation replaced a two-way left-turn lane with a raised median in 2015. The plants were maintained for a year after work was completed. That ended in December and a mild winter has allowed weeds to get an early start in the beds of knockout roses and crape myrtles.

The Litchfield Beautification Foundation and the Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program, which maintain other sections of Highway 17, have declined to take over the raised median because of uncertainty over funding. They are among four groups seeking accommodations tax funds from Georgetown County for landscaping.

“The orphan section is not going to get taken care of unless we get one of the organizations to do it,” County Council Member John Thomas said.

The county wants to come up with a base cost for highway landscape maintenance. County Administrator Sel Hemingway has requested information from landscapers. He envisions allocating the base amount to the beautification groups, which could then raise additional funds for planting and higher levels of care.

“We would like nice-looking landscaping from one end of Waccamaw Neck to the other,” Goggans said. But he added “the requests are absorbing more and more A-tax money.” That’s why the county wants to set a minimum standard of care and funding.

“We need to come up with that standard before the next grant cycle,” Thomas said.

That cycle is already underway. The county Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee will review four requests for highway landscaping along with six other grant applications on March 23.

The Garden City Beach Community Association wants $11,675 to maintain four-tenths of a mile of Bypass 17 from Highway 707 to the Horry County line. Murrells Inlet 2020 wants $6,332 to maintain 3.6 miles along Bypass 17. The Litchfield Beautification Foundation wants $4,000 to maintain three-tenths of a mile north of Sandy Island Road, an expansion of the 3.5 miles of highway it already maintains. Those requests are all for six months because the county is changing from a semi-annual to an annual grant cycle.

The Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program wants $30,012 to maintain 1.6 miles of Highway 17 for a full year. The amount per mile varies along with the level of landscaping and care. The Murrells Inlet 2020 plan calls for mowing and trash pickup twice a month in peak season. At Litchfield and Garden City, trash pickup is daily.

“It’s amazing how much trash builds up,” said Chad O’Brien, an owner of Waccamaw Landscaping, which does work for the Litchfield and Pawleys groups. The firm also maintained plantings in the raised median until the contract with DOT ran out.

Because the plants in the raised median are so thick, they hold the litter. “Going into the summer, it’s going to get worse,” O’Brien said. And the longer the area goes without maintenance, the more it will cost to get it back in shape. The estimated cost for maintaining that portion of the median is $20,000 a year.

The median project was opposed by some residents and business owners because it limits left turns. However, one thing most people agreed on was the need for landscaping. “It looked great when it went in,” Goggans said. He was a leader of the median opponents before he ran for County Council. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with that right now.”

Hemingway said he hopes to have the proposals soon. Rather than wait until the fall accommodations tax grant cycle – the first in the annual cycle – it’s possible County Council could allocate the base cost landscaping funds to a county department to pass along to the local groups, he said.

“We’ll have to make a judgement about whether that level of beautification is sufficiently beautiful,” Thomas said.

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