Horry County gives OK to begin final stage of International Drive construction
March 7th, 2017
By Charles Perry
Horry County officials on Tuesday told a contractor to begin completing the final stage of International Drive.
The county issued a notice to proceed, which gives Southern Asphalt 10 days to begin widening and paving the 5.6-mile road between Carolina Forest and S.C. 90, county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said. The work will cost nearly $15.5 million.
The decision comes as county leaders and two conservation groups await a decision from the S.C. Supreme Court about whether it will intervene in a dispute between the two parties, which have sparred over the design and location of the road.
The conservation groups lost legal battles with the county in state and federal courts. In January, the S.C. Court of Appeals agreed to allow the county to continue working on International Drive.
Last month, the Coastal Conservation League and the S.C. Wildlife Federation asked the state's highest court to stop the county from building the road to "prevent immediate and permanent damage from occurring as a result of the construction," according to a court filing.
The groups contend the project will harm area wildlife and damage wetlands, including 20 acres of heritage trust property. They want the court to stop the construction so their appeals of other court decisions in the case won't become moot.
"In this case, a stay would maintain the status quo by ensuring protection of public property and valuable coastal resources before that property and those resources are irreparably damaged and lost," the groups' filing states. "Failure to impose a stay will disrupt the status quo at the expense of the public, who owns the Heritage Preserve property over which this highway will be built."
Unless the S.C. Supreme Court intervenes, the appeals court decision will stand. The appellate court agreed to allow the county to continue working on the road as long as the road isn't opened to the public.
International Drive has been in the works for more than a decade.
Horry voters approved the project in a 2006 sales tax referendum. Construction was supposed to begin in 2015, but environmental objections put the brakes on the work.
Conservationists first challenged the state certifications in court, and in July a state judge ruled in the county’s favor. The conservationists appealed that decision.
County officials, however, received the federal permits for the project and opted to begin work anyway.
That prompted the conservationists to file a federal lawsuit in an effort to stop the county from working on the project. But federal judge sided with the county, forcing the conservationists to take that case to the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals.
The conservationists finally succeeded in stopping construction when the state appeals court issued the stay in December. That lasted until the following month when the appeals court reversed that order and allowed construction to continue.
"If the road is constructed and paved before we have judicial review of the state administrative decisions, then any relief will be meaningless," said Amy Armstrong, a lawyer for the conservation groups.
County officials said the last phase of construction should take about one year to complete.