Horry County officials and members of the SC Environmental Law Project are meeting Thursday to try and come to a compromise on bear tunnels along the planned International Drive project now that the Department of Health and Environmental Control decided not to conduct a new review of the need for the tunnels.
The Environmental Law Project has until Aug. 29 to challenge DHEC’s decision not to conduct a final review conference on their request for the tunnels on the planned International Drive road project. The road cuts through the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, which prompted original plans to call for tunnels and fencing along the road.
An official with the law project said she is not sure what the organization will do, but would like to solve the issue “amicably.”
For nine years, the state, Horry County officials and the majority of voters in a 2006 sales tax referendum have been waiting for the construction of International Drive, which is aimed at improving the flow of traffic from the Carolina Forest community to S.C. 90 and vice versa.
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International Drive, a 5.6 mile stretch of road, was scheduled to be completed in 2013.
Authorities have said a major fire in 2009 thinned the bear population, and by 2013, county and SC Department of Natural Resources officials agreed that crossings would not be needed. In that agreement, the county said it would expand the road from two lanes to four lanes and reduce traffic speed from 60 mph to 35 mph.
As the county was securing the final permits for the project earlier this summer, the Environmental Law Project filed a request with DHEC to conduct a final review conference, which basically asks its board to review the work of its staff. In this case, the law project wanted the board to make sure the tunnels should not be a requirement.
DHEC ruled last week the board will not review its staff’s recommendations, and now the law project has until Aug. 29 to request a contested case hearing before the Administrative Law Court.
Amy Armstrong, executive director and chief counsel of the law project, said she is uncertain whether the Coast Conservation League and the Wildlife Federation will continue the fight.
“CCL and the Wildlife Federation have not yet decided whether to pursue that avenue,” said Armstrong, whose organization represents CCL and the federation. “We … would much rather resolve the dispute amicably.”
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said the county is interested in meeting with the group to avoid more delays in the project.
“I heard that they wanted to meet so I extended out to them and set up a meeting to hear if there’s anything that they have to say,” Lazarus said. “We’d like to have a meeting of the minds to keep this thing moving forward without going to court. If not, we’ll see what they do.
“Hopefully we’ll have a nice meeting, walk out of there, shake hands and let them call the court to tell them to move forward.”