The ongoing delays in completion of International Drive and construction of Interstate 73 are glaring examples of the legal advantages environmentalists hold in opposing public works projects that clearly would be in the best interests of a majority of residents.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach says “the pendulum has swung too far [in favor of opponents of public works projects] all across the country.” In a recent sit-down with The Sun News Editorial Board, Rice noted that projects such as International Drive and I-73 are scrutinized in many aspects, public opinion is sought, “and then anyone can come along and hold it up.”
The Coastal Conservation League and the S.C. Wildlife Federation have asked the state Supreme Court to hear the environmental organizations’ case against completion of International Drive. The roadbed has been constructed from the Carolina Forest area to S.C. 90. The two groups have tied up completion of International Drive with lawsuits in state and federal courts.
Opponents are concerned about the impact of the road on wildlife and more development near the Lewis Ocean Bays Heritage Preserve. Let’s be clear that these are legitimate concerns, which are shared generally by many folks outside the environmental groups, including The Sun News. With regard to completing International Drive, the concerns have been more than adequately addressed – for most people. Horry County is constructing the road with the blessing of the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation. That’s not enough for the opponents.
Rice terms the continuing lawsuits frivolous, an abuse of the legal process, and he has proposed a federal law which would require environmentalists to pay all court costs and legal fees should they lose the court case. As it is now, environmentalists with no significant skin in the game can pay a modest court filing fee and block projects. Delays cost taxpayers because of legal fees and increased construction costs.
Rice’s bill (H.R. 1179, Discouraging Frivilous Lawsuits Act) may not be the answer, and it’s no surprise that Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League says the bill violates due process and “would severely restrict the ability citizens have to defend themselves against capricious government actions.” We imagine an overwhelming majority of Carolina Forest residents would not consider completion of International Drive a capricious action.
Interstate 73 remains important to the Grand Strand’s future economic growth, notwithstanding opposition to the long-planned highway. Illustrating the unbalance favoring environmentalists, Rice notes the Gunter’s Island plan to mitigate damage to 278 acres of wetlands. Federal funds of $20 million will purchase the 6,800-acre hunting and recreation area along the Little Pee Dee River.
Rice is upbeat about building I-73, in large part because Republicans now control both houses of Congress and the White House.
“We need to look at getting projects done,” he said.