Court order forces Horry County to stop International Drive construction yet again
December 20th, 2016
By Liz Cooper
As of Tuesday evening, construction on International Drive was once again halted. Horry County leaders now admit that they have to stop the project because of a recent court order. But, as of early Tuesday afternoon, Councilman Johnny Vaught said that wasn't the case. He told ABC 15 that, regardless of what environmentalists filed with the courts as of last week, there wasn't anything that said the county had to stop construction.
"We're not going to assume that we have to stop because the conservationists say that they're going to make us stop. When a judge tells us to stop, then we'll stop," said Vaught. That changed later Tuesday evening, when Vaught said, after his interview, the county had officially been notified by the courts to stop construction on International Drive. An order by the State Court of Appeals filed Tuesday, states that "because this court stayed the issuance of the certifications" that "authorize Horry County to build a highway within and adjacent to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in Horry County," the order requires that Horry County halt all work on the road project, including the widening, paving, and realigning of the existing unimproved portion of International Drive, pending the resolution of this appeal or other proceedings of this court." A copy of the order filed Tuesday can be found below:
The South Carolina Environmental Law Group represents the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. Amy Armstrong with The South Carolina Environmental Law Group, said the order filed last Thursday did tell the county to halt all construction. "Obviously we were surprised," said Armstrong. "The whole purpose of asking the court to stay construction was just that, so that it would stay," she said.
That paperwork, including appeals and stays on the project, have been slowing construction for the 5.6 mile paving jobs, a project that's nearly 10 years in the making. RELATED: International Drive construction on hold again after court order Attorney Billy Monckton with Monckton, Hembree & Humphries Law Firm, said the county and the environmentalists have interpreted last week's order from the court of appeals differently and that's why the county continued work as of Tuesday. "That argument that I'm seeing between the county and the Coastal Conservation League is what is intended to be constructed at this time. They have to completely different opinions apparently," said Monckton. Armstrong said the county's move to continue work despite last week's order is unusual. That in turn caused the group to file additional requests for a stay on construction. Armstrong said that will help to stop the county from doing irreversible damage to the wetlands, in which they're trying to protect. "The whole purpose of doing that is so that they can make the case moot," said Armstrong, when speaking about what would happen if the county continued work while the litigation plays out in the courts. But Vaught said, regardless of recent orders, the county will fight back and do whatever it takes to build the road. He said they will expedite the process in court to get International Drive paved as soon as possible. "We got all the permits. We did all the studies that were required," said Vaught. "We're ready to build a road and we're building a road." Vaught said they were supposed to lock in a construction bid on Tuesday for the project. That would mean we would know what company will be building the road and how much it would cost. He said the contract is for 365 days, but the county will give the company more money if they can do it quicker than that. International Drive is part of the Ride II projects, a penny sales tax voters were in favor of to build road projects. The county recently said they have additional funds from Ride II. Vaught said that's how they would pay the company additional money. "The money's already in the bank," said Vaught. "The people voted and they want their road." But, now that construction is stopped, that could all change and bids could also be put on hold. Vaught said they will discuss more on the bidding process and the recent order of halting the construction process on Wednesday. The County said in a release sent out on Wednesday that: Due to the recent court order issued by the S.C. Court of Appeals, work on International Drive has halted and Horry County is cancelling the solicitation of construction bids at this time. The County will retain the bids in sealed form until further notice. A hearing for the recent appeal for the stay has not been scheduled yet.