Horry County residents have won another legal round on finishing International Drive – approved by voters in a referendum six years ago – and the environmental entities that have blocked construction have an opportunity to move away from more contentious opposition and thereby win wider public approval.
The U.S. District Court in Florence has upheld an Army Corps of Engineers permit that allowed some preliminary work on the 5.6-mile road from Carolina Forest to S.C. 90. The Coastal Conservation League and other groups won a temporary injunction halting construction. Judge Bryan Harwell dissolved that injunction as he upheld issuance of the permit. Dana Beach, executive director of the CCL, expressed disappointment with the decision and says the league, the S.C. Wildlife Federation, and the S.C. Environmental Law Project, plan further legal action.
In other words, the environmentalists potentially will cause more delays in completion of a much-needed road. They have brought the legal actions that delayed construction scheduled to begin in 2013.
Beach also told The Sun News, “I can’t handicap the proceedings along the judicial route, but I’m not optimistic that nature, humans or the economy will win in the long term in this dispute, because it’s been so polarized by the county and their unwillingness to even move an inch on any kind of resolution.”
That’s the perspective of the environmental entities. They have fought hard to protect the 9,000-acre Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve and will continue to do so.
Without question, the preserve is a treasure, with 20 Carolina bays and habitat for the Venus flytrap, red-cockaded woodpeckers, black bears and bald eagles. International Drive borders a sliver (about 20 acres) of the preserve. The road construction includes new walking and bicycle paths that will allow more public access to the preserve. Environmentalists are upset that the road was expanded from two lanes to four and that tunnels for wildlife were taken out of the plans.
The county has taken an equally tough stance. Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus says, “Our position is that this was a road voted on by the people for an evacuation route and for public safety. That has held up numerous times in court, and that is the path we will continue.”
The completed International Drive will be significant daily traffic relief for thousands of residents of Carolina Forest.
Before going to the U.S. District Court, the environmental entities lost in the S.C. Administrative Law Court. While they have avenues for appeal in the federal courts, they also can take a public relations initiative and stand down on further opposition. Imagine the positive impact this might have on fundraising, for example.
By looking at the bigger picture, the whole of Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, they surely can benefit by no longer being obstructionists and gain wider public appeal for the preserve and other environmental causes.