A federal court has issued a temporary restraining order on certain construction work along International Drive, including prohibitions on filling wetlands and cutting down certain trees.
The order issued Friday in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina in Florence was reached after discussions with Horry County officials and environmentalists seeking to block construction, according to Judge R. Bryan Harwell.
Construction can continue, but is limited.
The order says the county cannot perform any more filling, physical work or alteration in any wetlands in the project right of way, which have not been filled as of Friday, Harwell wrote in his order.
The county is blocked from removing or clearing any trees larger than six inches in diameter. The county can still remove damaged or unhealthy trees if it poses a safety hazard.
No physical work, clearing, or filling can be performed on the Lewis Ocean Bay Preserve side of the project right of way.
The temporary restraining order lasts until the matter can be heard in federal court in Florence on Oct. 11.
The environmental groups filed a complaint on Sept. 1 in federal court challenging a federal permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers that is required to build the road near wetlands.
The complaint by the Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Wildlife Federation asks the court to set aside the federal permit, claiming the corps failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of the project or the impact of future development in the area.
Environmentalists wanted all construction blocked until their case could be heard in court. The county wrote in their response that blocking all construction would interfere with work needed to make the road passable by emergency vehicles.
The county argued the work would not harm the environment and that there is a pressing need to continue construction.
“Wetlands are restored after being filled on a routine basis,” the county said in its court response.
“The technology for doing so is well known and not complicated. The work now being done, where it involves filling wetlands, includes culverting the wetlands, all as required by the Corps of Engineers permit, so as to maintain and in most cases improve water connectivity in these wetlands. None of the work currently being done is irreversible and is all consistent with the permit issued properly by the Corps of Engineers,” the county said.
Horry County councilmen said they worked out an agreement with environmentalists for the temporary restraining order, and agreed to the limitations until the full hearing is held.
“We were expecting this,” Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said of the ruling.
Vaught and Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said the temporary restraining order will not have an effect on construction.
“We will continue working on everything we’ve been doing that’s not on the Heritage trust site,” Lazarus said. “It doesn’t slow us down or stop anything.”
The county began clearing, widening and packing the road last month after permits were issued.
If the judge rules in favor of the county in October, Lazarus said the county will call for bids for the actual paving and road completion.
If the judge rules in favor of the environmentalists, “then we’re at a dead standstill” until the federal case is decided, Lazarus said.