Letters to the Editor

Tom Rice | International Drive another badly needed project delayed

I was interested to read the article from The Sun News on Thursday about the last-minute delay of the permit to pave International Drive. This project will take thousands of cars off of the gridlock of Highway 501, and relieve congestion in Carolina Forest.

On the day before we were to receive the permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coastal Conservation League filed an appeal. It seems they want the road to be redesigned to include multiple bear crossings, at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers of Horry County. That’s millions of scarce taxpayer dollars that could be used to complete other badly needed road projects.

Now, I’m not sure how much use these crossings will get. My late friend General James Vaught, in pointing out the absurdity of bear crossings, often said, “Bears will cross the road wherever they damned well please.” Even if the crossings would be effective to prevent a bear from being killed every year or two, which I doubt, you should know that the Department of Natural Resources believes we have a sufficient population of black bears to have opened a bear hunting season in Horry County since 2012. That’s right, in last year’s season up to 45 bears could be legally taken in Horry County.

I consider myself an environmentalist. I love the outdoors. I love to hunt and fish. I am not, however, a radical environmentalist. I believe we can move forward with infrastructure, improve people’s lives, create jobs AND protect the environment. I believe that the term “environmentalism” has been hijacked by a group of folks who should more correctly be labeled obstructionists. They believe it their duty to put up roadblocks to progress. Friends, there are people out there who would, if they could, prevent the construction of any new roads.

It is standard procedure for the Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Environmental Law Project to stifle progress. They have made no secret of their intent to block Interstate 73, which would bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth through a poverty stricken area of South Carolina. Two other recent examples of their activities:

You would be driving on a four-lane Highway 707 and an extended Highway 31 today, but for Coastal Conservation League protests and objections that delayed those projects for years. These projects were paid for, and could have put hundreds of people to work, saved the people thousands of hours of commuting time and expanded commerce in Horry and Georgetown Counties in the depths of the recession, at a time when we desperately needed the jobs. Additionally, the delays are said to have increased the project costs to the taxpayers by about $20 million.

The Southern Environmental Law Project recently wrote a letter to the Army Corps opposing the expansion of the Bucksport Marina. The marina expansion is designed to attract marine-related jobs to one of the poorest sections of Horry and Georgetown Counties. But according to their friends at the Coastal Conservation League, the project has “no demonstrated need” and could “threaten the health of Bucksport residents.”

State and federal law make it far too easy for anyone to protest and delay projects in the public interest, with little or no cost, and regardless of merit. I constantly hear horror stories about projects being delayed or canceled, billions of taxpayer dollars spent, thousands of jobs lost due to absurd environmental laws. According to the World Bank Group, which studies economics and international business, the United States ranks 41st in ease of “dealing with construction permits.” In turn, the U.S. ranks 46th in “starting a business,” and is currently not ranked first in any of their categories.

I am working on legislation at the federal level to correct this inequity. At a time when America is struggling to remain competitive in the world we cannot allow obstructionists to stifle progress in the name of environmentalism.

The writer represents South Carolina’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.