Letter | Environmentalists not to blame for roadwork delays

06/15/2013 12:00 AM

06/14/2013 4:18 PM

Mike Wooten, S.C. Department of Transportation commissioner for the 7th Congressional District, should know better than to mislead Horry County taxpayers by shifting the blame for the County’s RIDE II projects from the Department of Transportation to the Coastal Conservation League.

Appeals blamed for the delays, Mr. Wooten’s June 2nd Sun News op-ed, is inaccurate and misleading.

The original federal permit for the Carolina Bays Parkway was issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers in March, 2000 with the Parkway’s southern terminus being US 17 near Holmestown Road. In March, 2010 the SCDOT applied for a modification to the 2000 Corps Parkway permit in order to change the Parkway’s southern terminus from US 17 to SC 707 and to add a ramp to the SC 544/Carolina Bays Parkway interchange. These modifications required SCDOT and the Corps to undertake additional environmental reviews and studies pursuant to federal law.

Modifications of highway projects and additional analyses required for these changes take time and cannot be blamed, as Mr. Wooten does in his op-ed, on conservation organizations that had nothing to do with these changes. Further, in evaluating SCDOT’s proposed modifications, the Corps discovered and notified the public that the SCDOT had violated the terms of its original permit by destroying about 46 acres of wetlands that SCDOT had previously promised to protect in perpetuity.

The law requires that the public be notified and allowed to comment on permit applications and modifications. The Coastal Conservation League, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, submitted comments as did other agencies, organizations, and individuals. For Mr. Wooten to claim it was our comment letters – as opposed to SCDOT’s own request for permit modifications and illegal filling of wetlands – that caused a two year delay and cost taxpayer dollars demonstrates that he is trying to cover up someone else’s incompetence.

And then, out of left field, comes Mr. Wooten’s rant on the automatic stay, which has nothing to do with the final phase of the Carolina Bays Parkway project. Under South Carolina law, some projects are automatically stayed or frozen when a state permit appeal is filed. The stay is imposed to protect the natural resources at issue, pending the outcome of the state permit appeal. Here, neither the League nor SELC has filed any such appeal relating to this final phase of the Parkway and cannot be blamed for any delays in its construction. The delays are solely due to SCDOT’s own changes to the project and to the agency’s propensity for illegally filling wetlands.

The responsibility for delays in finishing the Carolina Bays Parkway and subsequent RIDE II projects lies with SCDOT and Horry County special interests. The Parkway, as originally permitted in 2000, would be in use today if it hadn’t been for the numerous changes and unauthorized destruction of wetlands….no comments necessary.

The writer is north coast director for the Coastal Conservation League.

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