The Southern Evacuation Lifeline project, which would provide an emergency evacuation route for those on the south end of the Grand Strand, is atop the minds of the hotly contested Horry County District 5 race for this year’s Republican primary.
The seat currently is being held by one-term Councilman Paul Price who opted not to run for a second term due to health concerns. The four-way race pits an attorney, an owner of a real estate and construction business, a retired accountant and business owner, and a 23-year-old real estate broker against each other to serve the district, which covers parts of Surfside Beach, Garden City and a part of the Burgess community – the second largest populated area in Horry County behind Myrtle Beach.
The Southern Evacuation Lifeline, or SELL, project is a proposed 28-mile highway with a price tag of between $650 million and $700 million, that faces hurdles outside finding a funding source.
For one thing, it would cut through land conservationists have continued to protect. The road would run from S.C. 31 to U.S. 378, with three of the four possible routes going through the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.
Reese Boyd III, an attorney who has been legal counsel to the governor and worked in various law firms, said he has heard from many constituents that SELL is needed.
“I think the overwhelming majority of the 5th district supports the SELL road as the priority project to the folks in our district,” Boyd said. “From the county-wide perspective, my experience is what is most important to us ... is I-73.”
The proposed Interstate 73 would stretch from Michigan to Briarcliffe Acres. It would be the first interstate to be built in the U.S. in decades, with its S.C. portion estimated to cost at least $2.4 billion.
Clif Smith, the owner of a real estate and construction business, said the SELL project is one that he puts at the top of his list of priorities.
“We need the Southern Evacuation Lifeline for several reasons,” Smith said. “It’ll reduce congestion on U.S. 501 and the other major arteries at peak traffic times.”
Chuck Ottwell, the retired accountant and business owner, said hands down, the most important project to constituents is SELL.
“Most importantly, I’d say the SELL project,” Ottwell said. “We need help down here in our infrastructure.”
He also said Tournament Boulevard needs to be widened and potholes filled and, if elected as councilman, he would see that the Garden City Connector project would be complete.
Tyler Servant, the 23-year-old real estate broker, said the SELL project and I-73 were big projects he would like to work on.
“The main one from my district is the SELL project,” Servant said. “Obviously, it will take a lot of money and won’t be covered all in [the next capital project sales tax project], but we have to start looking at those kinds of avenues for the SELL project and I-73. Specifically we need to look at the the county-related upgrades that might take place when it comes to I-73.”
Servant said he has spent the last 13 years answering people’s questions as he worked for Surfside Realty Company, his family’s business, and solving problems when they came up.
“That’s the training we need and the experience we need out of our county councilman,” Servant said, adding he would work on recruiting “quality jobs” for the area, if elected.
“We send our kids to college and too many of them do not come back,” Servant said. “I’m the only person in this race right now who recently faced this decision and watched my friends face it too. I know what it takes to get some of those young folks choosing to come back home and I want to focus on this as the next councilman.”
Ottwell stressed the importance of his experiences – including a degree in accounting, a master’s in business administration, being a small business owner, being an auditor in California for more than 10 years and spending the last five years as president of the South Strand Republican Club – make him most qualified to serve as councilman.
“I think it boils down to experience,” Ottwell said. “I think that experience can be translated to government.”
Smith said his availability and the amount of time he spent living in the 5th District makes him the most qualified.
“In my mind, being on County Council is being of service to your neighbors and the constituents of your district and the county as a whole,” Smith said. “I have 35 years of experience in Horry County District No. 5. I’ve lived here and resided here and owned and operated a business here for 35 years. I feel like that makes me uniquely qualified.”
Boyd said he has lived throughout the county – from Loris to Conway and along the South Strand until he settled in Murrells Inlet. Boyd said he best understands how government works because of his past experiences and knows the importance of being able to forge solid working relationships with other members of the council, which makes him most qualified.
“I think when the voters compare my record and my background, I think we compare favorably and are the best choice,” Boyd said, adding he’s been counsel to former S.C. Governor Carroll Campbell Jr. “I know a lot about getting around state government, and I know a lot about the way things work in Columbia.”
Boyd said the West Jet transaction, where the county signed a revenue guarantee where it was forced to pay the Canadian airline more than $550,000, caught his attention because he has been on the “other side of the table” negotiating similar deals for aviation clients. He said the West Jet deal piqued his interest in running for council.
“To address those kinds of issues, you elect people to council who have the experience to know, quite frankly, when there’s a fox in the hen house, and to know when to vote no,” Boyd said.
Smith called the West Jet deal “a bad mistake on council’s part” and would have refused to sign the contract.
“As far as West Jet goes, we got the horse ahead of the cart,” Smith said. “We signed an agreement that was not beneficial to the county in any way, shape or form. We signed a revenue agreement as opposed to an occupancy type or an agreement based on the number of seats sold.”
Ottwell said he was flat out against the West Jet deal from the beginning and vowed to be more attentive if he is elected to council.
“I would have never voted for West Jet at all,” Ottwell said. “Being as that I am a small business man and hopefully I know something about it because I have a master’s in business administration, I’ve never gotten a deal that good in my life as a small business person. I just wouldn’t have voted for a guarantee of that magnitude. That was not the most prudent thing to do in my opinion for the taxpayers of Horry County.
“I think No. 1 you need to do your homework and just be aware of what is in these contracts… and use your business acumen to look at all the issues and make the best decision for the people of Horry County.”
Servant said taxpayers’ return on investment should have been the focus of both the West Jet and bus shelter programs.
“It should be run like a business and we should be maximizing each and every single dollar that taxpayers are putting in that program,” Servant said. “These government programs have to be focused on what the return on investment from the taxpayer will be. Each dollar that the taxpayer puts in, we’re getting more for it each time.
“With both of these programs, you’re seeing that we’re not maximizing the taxpayers return on investment. That’s going to be my focus.”
He said the county also needs to spend time maintaining county responsibilities.
“We have to focus on getting more for what we spend and getting the most out of that dollar,” Servant said. “I refuse to accept the theory right now that we only have two choices: raising revenue and cutting services. I seriously doubt that Horry County operates without waste, duplication or inefficiency.
“My experience in the private sector is what is going to guide me as I maximize the existing dollar that Horry County.”