Sandridge community concerned about proposed route of Conway perimeter road
Bishop Edward Blain II, 95 years old, could be forced to move from his Conway home.
Born in 1924, Blain grew up in the Sandridge Community along Cates Bay Highway, where he now lives. After serving in World War II, he moved north, but returned home to Conway after his children grew up.
Today, the city he grew up in is changing rapidly as population totals soar.
To accommodate all the new cars a growing population brings, a proposed road construction project would put a four-lane Conway road somewhere through his community, a historic area for the city’s African-American population.
The Conway Perimeter Road Phase II was passed through a referendum in 2016. As of now, there are five possible corridors for the road to take, the second of which would go right through Blain’s home.
“I moved back here because this home and it’s where I enjoy living,” Blain said. “I think there is plenty of places to build the road instead of taking people’s property. It’s awful. They paid for that property. If they do take it, they should pay an excellent amount for that property.”
South Carolina Department of Transportation Project Manager Marla Watson said it is her agency’s goal to design the road as it was instructed to do by Horry County voters, but she wants to minimize the negative affect the road has on the surrounding community.
“We typically stay away from churches and cemeteries,” Watson said.
The $18.4 million project was approved by Horry County voters in 2016 in the RIDE III referendum. It is an Horry County project, and SCDOT is just handling the logistics as instructed by the referendum vote.
More information on the project can be found on SCDOT’s website.
It will be years before construction begins on the perimeter road between Highway 701 and Highway 378. Once completed, it will create a “U” shaped route to get around Conway without having to get on a highway.
Once completed, it will be a four-lane road with a median and a walking path.
The project is still in the design phase, with construction expected to begin in 2023. In order to start construction, the government will need to own all of the land along the route.
Currently, SCDOT has identified five possible paths for the road to take. One of the paths would require Blain to relocate from his home. Other paths would spare Blain’s home, but endanger others.
SCDOT has picked a preferred corridor that will be unveiled at a community meeting on Aug. 8 at 5 p.m., Watson said. While she couldn’t provide specifics for the corridor, she said it took into account community input and preserving history.
Still, a portion of the land needed to build the road is in private hands. So there will be some right of ways that need to be purchased from homeowners and potentially some folks may have to relocate in the process.
While some people will most likely end up losing land or having to relocate for the road, Watson encouraged residents to come out to the meeting and to stay involved.
Preserving a community
For community activist Cedric Blain-Spain, who is Blain’s cousin, this issue is deeper than any one road or one site. He wants to see the history of the African-American community living in Sandridge preserved for future generations.
Blain-Spain is doing his best to take Watson’s advice and get as many people involved as possible.
He grew up in the community. He has family buried in the Sandridge Community Cemetery, like his ancestor Hannah Hemingway, who was born in 1829 and died in 1904.
If Corridor 2 in particular was picked, his cousin would probably have to move and his ancestor’s grave will be yards away from a four-lane road.
Many of the landmarks in the area are not old in years like some of the historically white areas of town. The homes are modest, built in the 1930s, 40s and 50s by black residents of Horry County. But they’re still historic because they show the hard work of the black community in Horry County and are the homes of heroes like Blain, Blain-Spain said.
“Some of the homes in the community are still, that parents built through blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “They may not be houses valued at hundreds of thousand of dollars, but they’re valuable to us, to our history and where we came from.”
It wouldn’t even be a conversation to uproot the historical homes in the former white parts of Conway, Blain-Spain said. Eminent domain has been declared in the community before, like to install a pipe on an 87-year-old woman’s house.
He asked for community members, both still in Conway and those who’ve left, to get involved in making sure the Conway Perimeter or any project doesn’t destroy the area and erase the history of the community.
“For us in the community, that’s historic to us,” he said. “They may not be 100-year-old homes, but it is historic for the African-Americans in this community. When you’re talking about preserving history, such as this, and you have a four-lane highway, there is going to be run off. It’s going to be destructive to the cemetery and the community.”
Standing outside the cemetery on Monday, a driver stopped on the side of the road to ask Blain-Spain if a corridor has been picked yet. He told them not yet, it’ll be unveiled at the upcoming August meeting. He reminded them to attend the meeting.
Blain-Spain said he is trying to get ahead of the project. He wants to see be proactive in making sure SCDOT and Horry County hear the community’s concerns, instead of just reacting to whatever corridor is picked.
He gave an impassioned speech to Horry County Council last week about his concerns, asking the elected leaders to make sure his community is preserved.
“We are wounded by this RIDE III, phase two project,” he told council. “We’re pleading for our community.”
Blain-Spain said council members Orton Bellamy and Johnny Gardner said his speech was powerful. Both council members encouraged residents to attend the August meeting for more information and to stay involved in the process.