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Horry County paving plans pose problems

Horry County is trying to make sure the many upcoming road and paving projects don't interfere with day-to-day traffic or violate ordinances that prevent concrete plants from operating overnight.

The start dates for several state and Horry County projects - including the back gate expansion, the widening of S.C. 707 and Glenns Bay Road, the Aynor overpass and the extension of S.C. 31 - are fast approaching. The county soon will start taking bids for the concrete and paving work for those projects, but there could be a hitch in that the county has an ordinance in effect that does not allow concrete plants to operate between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

If that ordinance stands, the county will be stuck trying to get major roadwork done during daytime hours in the peak tourist season.

"The projects need to be done at night because of the potential impact on traffic. My question is how do we address that? You're going to have a problem in the next 90 to 100 days of a serious magnitude," said Paul Whitten, the county's assistant administrator for public safety.

The county issued a temporary permit for a batch plant in unincorporated Myrtle Beach to work through the night for a paving project at the airport earlier this year, which caused some controversy and complaints with neighbors of the plant. Whitten said with the number of projects approaching, changing the ordinance may be the best bet for dealing with the county's needs. The County Council's Public Safety Committee moved the proposal to the full council Monday with mixed reviews.

The proposal would require a special events permit for batch plants seeking to bid on projects with overnight work components. The process would take about seven to 10 days and require the approval of several different departments including planning, public safety, emergency management and others.

"I believe this process allows us to live up to the promises we made to residents, but allows those entities that have a need to work at night, the ability to allow these projects to happen," Whitten said.

His department will evaluate the batch plants using criteria that also apply to the special event permits given out to motorcycle rally vendors, such as noise mitigation, past community complaints, proximity to residential property and whether the company was there before the residences. If the plan is approved, the companies will be placed in tiers based on those criteria. The first tier would be able to operate overnight when necessary for government projects; the second tier would be allowed to work overnight on a limited basis; and the third tier would not be allowed to operate during prohibited hours because of the potential community impact.

Several council members had concerns about the plan, including whether it would make the bidding process for government contracts an unlevel playing field and whether public input should be built into the process.

"Nowhere have we allowed for anyone who is directly impacted ... to have public input. By virtue of the fact that the criteria are not in code, it becomes subjective and that's where we get on thin ice," said Councilman Marion Foxworth.

Several members supported the preliminary proposal as a good place to start while trying to keep the clock running on the existing projects. Liz Gilland, Horry County Council chairwoman, said the proposal seemed fair because it would allow batch plants to know where they stand on the tier list and initiate remedial measures like sound mitigation or temporary plants offsite if they wanted to bid on the multimillion dollar government projects.

The Public Safety Department will meet with business owners before the next Public Safety Committee meeting and the ordinance change will have its first reading before the full council in July.