SC bill would limit automatic stays, environmental groups not happy
February 9th, 2017
By Abbey O'Brien
The South Carolina Court of Appeals turned down reconsideration of the lawsuit against Horry County in the case of International Drive, according to Horry County Councilman, Johnny Vaught.
“So we’re actually going straight ahead with that. We will be opening bids for that a week from Friday,” said Vaught. “They can get started and meantime the stay was lifted so we’re able to go back to work.”
South Carolina Senator, Greg Hembree, said the International Drive project is the perfect example of why the “automatic stay” process in South Carolina is too powerful.
“I think it’s a system that’s out of balance. That’s why you don’t see other states with this kind of a tool in the toolbox,” said Hembree. He explained automatic stay as a legal procedure where a party in South Carolina that objects to a permit can “send a letter that says ‘I object'” and it would stop the project.
“It stops everything, I mean, it stops the bulldozers from running,” added Hembree. So he’s proposing a bill that would roll back the automatic stay process.
“The procedure would still be available but the objector would have to at least make a good faith showing that they have legitimate grounds to object to the project,” said Hembree.
The legislation would make it more difficult for environmental groups to stall major projects.
“The people that are picking up the tab on many of these are the tax payers,” added Hembree. “They’re the ones that are going to spend millions and millions of dollars on delays and excess costs as a result of this objection.”
Staff Attorney with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), Amelia Thompson, said the legislation would roll back citizen action with the government.
“When you are in the Administrative Law Court and you’re challenging an environmental authorization, it’s really important to have that automatic stay in place,” said Thompson. “And the reason why is it’s really hard to undo environmental damage once you do it.”
Thompson said automatic stay is a modest right for citizens in South Carolina and if the legislation passes, groups would have to stand by and watch the case become moot. She also said International Drive is a unique situation because most road projects go unchallenged.
“The reason why the International Drive project was challenged, and it was carefully considered by our clients before doing so, was because it had such an enormous environmental impact,” added Thompson.
She also said the fight for International Drive is not over in South Carolina or federal court.
“We’re still fighting in both forums and trying very hard to protect what’s left of the area,” said Thompson.
Vaught said while federal appeals still have to go through, he’s not worried.
“That’s not going to slow us down,” said Vaught. “We’re going to be able to go ahead and build it.”
Hembree also added that the bill he’s proposing isn’t anti-environmental legislation.
“It’s legislation that’s fair,” he added. “It’s about fairness and having a system that’s reasonable and fair and not subject to abuse.”