Re: May 21 letter from John Platt, “Where are the road projects for permanent Strand residents?”
A letter from John Platt regarding local infrastructure improvements raised questions about the apparent lack of progress with the roadway infrastructure projects funded by the RIDE II referendum. After reading that letter, it became apparent to me that the citizens of Horry County are wondering why their tax dollars aren’t being spent in a timely manner on the improvements to be funded through RIDE II.
Under the law, projects funded through the penny sales tax referendum must be permitted and bid in the order that they appeared on the ballot. As such, when any project on the list gets held up in the regulatory permitting process, literally every project behind it suffers the same delay.
Originally the permit applications for the extension of the Carolina Bays Parkway (Highway 31) and widening of Highway 707 were filed separately. However, due to an objection from the Coastal Conservation League, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required the permits for the two projects to be combined into one. Shortly after this was done, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League raised questions about the construction of Phase 1 of the Carolina Bays Parkway as it related to the original permit, which was issued in March of 2000. This letter effectively created a delay which has lasted two years. In addition to the time lost, it has been estimated that this delay has cost the taxpayers of Horry County in excess of $15 million.
Each and every RIDE II project must go through the state and federal regulatory permitting process. As many as eight agencies can be involved in regulatory permitting for a roadway project. Any adverse comment from a group like the Coastal Conservation League effectively slows down the process because of the potential that the permit may be appealed after it is issued.
An appeal can delay a project by as much as two years, so the agency representatives tend to be extremely cautious in an effort to avoid an appeal. Under South Carolina law, even though a project has been approved by all of the state and federal agencies, the project, is literally, stopped in its tracks by an appeal. This “automatic stay” was intended to ensure that no irreparable harm is done to the environment. In my opinion, this provision gives these groups way too much power over public work projects, as evidenced by the two-year delay we experienced for the Highway 31/707 projects.
Hopefully, the legislature will take a hard look at what the automatic stay provision does to the budgets of county and state road improvement projects. It has been my experience that our delegation is well aware of the delays in the RIDE II Program and are committed to finding a solution. In addition, members of the Horry/Georgetown delegation have played key roles in the evolution of funding for the SCDOT for upkeep and maintenance of our roads and bridges. As one example, Senator Ray Cleary chairs a committee from Senate Finance that has been focused on how to fund SCDOT to a higher level to better maintain our roads and bridges.