International Drive Route Along Lewis Ocean Bays Preserve
Conservation League Says Quality of Life Matters Along With Growth.
Earlier this month the U.S. District Court in Florence upheld an Army Corps of Engineers permit that allowed some preliminary work on the 5.6-mile road from Carolina Forest to S.C. 90. The Coastal Conservation League and other groups won a temporary injunction halting construction. Judge Bryan Harwell dissolved that injunction as he upheld issuance of the permit.
While the road will open up a much needed direct route between highway 90 and Carolina Forest into Myrtle Beach, Lisa Jones Turansky and Coastal Conservation League members are concerned how the road will affect the long term, quality of life issues for retirees who are choosing to make the Myrtle Beach area home. Myrtle Beach is almost entirely a retirement community. Retirees care greatly about ongoing quality of life issues that include: safe bacteria levels on oceanfront beaches, a responsible land development that works in harmony with a comprehensive Horry County footprint, and growth that supports and allows for continued retirement opportunities into Horry County. One such critical area is the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve which runs along International Drive.
In November 2006, Horry County voters overwhelmingly approved a tax to fund road projects in the county. International Drive was one of the projects that appeared on the ballot — a two-lane 5.6-mile paving project from Carolina Forest to SC Hwy 90. Turansky says, “The Conservation League and our partners agreed not to oppose this project after discussions with DNR and Horry County, as long as the project remained a two-lane paving project that included two bear crossings for the largest population of coastal bears in our region. In the years since, Horry County has transformed the project. They have removed the promised bear crossings, widened it to four lanes, and added ten curb cuts that will facilitate future development along the road.”
Those changes are important, not only because they represent a divergence from the original intention of the project but also because they present a risk to the landscape and the community.
International Drive runs along the perimeter of Lewis Ocean Bay, a 9,343-acre preserve of more than 20 Carolina Bays — teeming with rare species of plants and animals, including the Venus fly trap, southern fox squirrel, red-cockaded woodpecker, and of course, the coastal black bear. The ecological value of the preserve has not changed since the Heritage Trust Program purchased the land in 1989 from International Paper to protect it.
“While we want the road built, said the Morgan Family of the greater Myrtle Beach area, we also want it built responsibly. Our quality of life does matter.” The Conservation League says quality of life matters along with growth as well.
“Increasing the scale of the project is irresponsible and dangerous. Bears, like deer, tend to cross roads when we humans least expect it. Not only that, but the longleaf forest that surrounds the road requires regular controlled burning — a practice that is not terribly compatible with a five-lane highway-style road. Further, by including curb cuts in the road, the project guarantees that the impacts of the construction will extend far beyond its completion, as private landowners begin to develop roads and buildings,” Turansky added.
Moving forward with the newly expanded design, Horry County applied for, and received, a DHEC permit to fill 24.88 acres of wetlands adjacent to tributaries of the Waccamaw River.
The Conservation League and SC Wildlife Federation, represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), appealed DHEC’s permit decision unsuccessfully. Days after Judge Anderson’s ruling in an administrative law court, the Army Corps of Engineers issued their Section 404 permit. Horry County promptly began clearing and filling wetlands along International Drive before SCELP or the Conservation League had been notified of the permit decision.
Concerned that Horry County was causing irreparable damage to the preserve, the group filed for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on Horry County, preventing them from performing any filling, physical work or alteration in any wetlands in the project right of way. Within weeks of the TRO, the Conservation League obtained photographs of the project site that revealed Horry County continuing work.
The group also filed a federal lawsuit based on the lack of information and analysis provided in the project’s Environmental Assessment. SCELP and the Conservation League appeared before Judge Bryan Harwell on October 28 to argue Contempt against Horry County for violating the TRO, and to request a preliminary injunction until the federal case is heard. The injunction would have ensured that no more irreparable damage to the property would occur.
Last week, in a devastating blow, Coastal Conservation League received the news that Judge Harwell denied the motion for a preliminary injunction in the federal lawsuit challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision.
The fate of the lawsuit is unknown. The Coastal Conservation League admits they may not prevail, but they are not alone in their opposition. In fact, the group launched a petition (http://action.coastalconserva
“We need to make these voices heard, to hold Horry County accountable for disrupting one of the last large swaths of Carolina Bays and bear habitat in the region,” Turansky says.
Walking the fine line between both growth and quality of life for Myrtle Beach area residents is certainly a challenge. The Coastal Conservation League has been willing to take on that very challenge.