Gov. Henry McMaster on Thursday endorsed a locally sponsored bill that he says would put a stop to the lengthy court delays that have constantly postponed construction of International Drive.
The legislation known as “automatic stay” is sponsored by state Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Conway), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has already passed the Senate.
McMaster pledged he would sign the bill into law if it passes the House this session.
“Currently, court challenges can automatically stop work in important construction projects for unnecessarily long periods of time,” McMaster said in a statement. “Under this bill, the time period for which a court may issue an automatic stay is limited to a reasonable and practical 90 days.”
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“Lengthy delays and uncertainty inhibit economic growth. Sound business decisions and strong environmental policies will allow our State to prosper,” McMaster said.
Environmentalists have been challenging construction of International Drive since 2015.
After several stop work orders, the state appeals court is now allowing construction to continue, although the road cannot open until the case is settled. Another lawsuit by the same environmental groups is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Senate bill applies to any individual or group that oppose road projects, but is targeted at the Coastal Conservation League, the leading critic of International Drive construction that would link Highway 90 with Carolina Forest.
The environmental group was successful in stalling the legislation during the last session, and a spokeswoman says they remain opposed because it would severely limit an individual’s ability to question government decisions.
“If signed in to law, (the bill) would place an unreasonably high burden on citizens, giving free rein to industries and developers to irreparably harm our state’s natural resources prior to completion of the administrative review process,” said Natalie Olson, a staff attorney for the environmental group.
“We will continue to fight to protect peoples’ ability to challenge bureaucratic permitting decisions that threaten South Carolina’s environment,” Olson said.
Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, says that changes to the automatic stay law are long overdue.
“We are encouraged to see support from Gov. McMaster, as he clearly understands the need for a level playing field,” Dean said. “We support this bill which creates an appropriate balance between protecting the environment and economic growth and job creation — a win-win for our community and businesses.”