Environmental groups on Monday called for the Grand Strand Water & Sewer Authority to withdraw its permit application to build a marine industrial park along the Waccamaw River in Bucksport so further study can occur, something the authority’s executive director said isn’t necessary.
Meanwhile, dozens of Bucksport residents attended Monday’s public hearing on the proposal, most of them voicing opposition to the plan and expressing skepticism over the impact it could have on the predominantly black community.
“We don’t have a problem with progress, but what will it cost our community?” said Harold Phillips, a Bucksport resident. “Most of us live a quiet, peaceful life.”
William Gause, another Bucksport resident, said he is concerned new industry and resulting development will displace black residents who have called the community home for decades.
“When the dollar moves in, it doesn’t care where it pushes and shoves,” he said.
The proposed facility, to be located where the Bucksport marina now stands, would create an opportunity to lure boat manufacturers and other marine-related industry with good-paying jobs, according to Fred Richardson, executive director of the authority, which purchased the land for $3.5 million in 2010.
Environmentalists say those jobs would come at a high cost to the river and wildlife.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which hosted Monday’s hearing, is studying the plan as the lead regulator in charge of issuing permits for the facility’s construction.
Nancy Cave, north coast director for the Coastal Conservation League, said the authority’s application does not include enough details about how the waterfront industrial park will be developed and then operated, making it impossible to determine the facility’s impacts on surrounding land and the river.
Cave also said the authority’s proposal does not include a mitigation plan to replace or compensate for impacts to natural resources.
“The permit needs to be withdrawn and an environmental assessment completed before a permit is resubmitted,” Cave said.
Richardson said the site’s previous owner already went through a similar permitting process for a proposed condominium project which was never built. That project included dredging and construction similar to what would occur at the industrial park. Richardson said the authority also has completed the permitting process for its existing water plant and an under-construction sewer treatment plant at the site.
“I don’t see the need for this [environmental assessment], but there is a regulatory process that we are following,” Richardson said.
“The regulators will tell us what to do, not the environmentalists.”
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said he is confident the authority and state-owned electric utility Santee Cooper – a partner in the project – will protect the environment.
“I can promise you they’re not going to do anything to damage this area,” Lazarus said, adding that he will personally guarantee “nothing happens to the quality of that river.”
“This is about quality of life for everybody,” Lazarus said. “It’s also about jobs, jobs, jobs for the area. When we have good quality jobs, we can get rid of the crime in Horry County.”
Michael Corley, a lawyer with the S.C. Environmental Law Project, said the authority’s proposal makes bold claims about job creation but is short on details.
“We haven’t heard from a single private business saying they want this thing,” Corley said, adding that the promise of jobs rings hollow as long as no tenants can be identified.
“I haven’t seen any proof backing up these claims. You can say something as many times as you want to, but that doesn’t make it true. Where is the evidence to back up the promises to the Bucksport community?”
Paula Reidhaar, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, said the authority’s plan to dredge 40,000 cubic yards from the river will “significantly impact the area’s ecosystem.”
The industrial park site currently houses a riverfront restaurant, campground and the Bucksport Marina, used primarily by recreational boaters.
If built, the authority would own the marina and lease parcels to private businesses such as boat-building enterprises, bulk cargo industry and heavy transport barge operations that could utilize the Intracoastal Waterway and access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. and Santee Cooper would help market the project to prospective tenants.
Plans include the construction of new docks and piers and a road connecting the marina to U.S. 701. The authority plans a 50-foot buffer to separate the marina from nearby residential properties.
There are about 195 acres of developable property on the tract, which the authority purchased in 2010. Of that amount, the authority proposes leasing 141 acres to industry – in parcels ranging from 10 acres to 36 acres – with the remaining land used for a marine common area and stormwater retention.
The area where the industrial park would be built is mostly undeveloped except for the existing Bucksport Marina, and most of the surrounding area includes state and federal protected lands and private property under conservation easements. Across the river from the site of the proposed facility are the Bucksport and Oliver Wildlife Management Areas, which are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.
Environmentalists say they are concerned about noise and pollution impacts to the wildlife refuge stemming from both the construction and operation of the industrial park. Environmentalists also cite noise and pollution from truck traffic during the dredging and construction process and resulting sprawl along the road connecting the park to U.S. 701.
DHEC will consider comments made at Monday’s hearing as it reviews the permit application. If the environmental permitting is approved, Richardson said it could take about a year for construction of the park.