International Drive hearing begins in Columbia

International Drive hearing begins in Columbia

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - The debate over whether or not to pave International Drive has moved out of Horry County and into Columbia.

A judge at the South Carolina Administrative Law Court in Columbia heard nearly seven hours of arguments and testimony about International Drive Tuesday. The hearing is scheduled to last another two days, but attorneys said it could go on until next week.

Tuesday's proceedings included opening statements, which summarized the arguments on both sides of the case, as well as witness testimony.

The Coastal Conservation League is requesting a judge overturn DHEC's decision to issue Horry County water quality and coastal zone consistency certifications, which allow the county to move forward with paving the road.

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project is representing Coastal Conservation League in this case.

They said bears in Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve are at risk if the road is built, especially if the plan doesn't include bear passageways.

Meanwhile, Horry County representatives said the paving of International Drive is a safety issue and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has approved the project the way it is without bear tunnels.

"That's when DNR came back and said, 'Look we really don't need the bear tunnels. There's no need in the cost of an excess of three million dollars,'" Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said.

Two science experts took the stand as witnesses Tuesday.

They both said International Drive would damage Lewis Ocean Bay.

Steve Gilbert, of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, said he thinks the road wouldn't provide much benefit for the general population either.

"Any quicker access to emergencies would be negated by the high potential for interactions between cars and bears," Gilbert said.

When Horry County's attorney, Stan Barnett, asked Gilbert if animal life or human life is more important, he hesitated.

"It's something I prefer not to answer, but I wouldn't advocate for a bear's life over a human life if that's what you're asking," Gilbert said.

People who live along Highway 90 are especially concerned about emergency responders reaching them in a timely manner without access to International Drive.

"It's safety. It's not convenience, it's safety," said Felicia Soto. "And I think our side really did bring that to light."

Lazarus said his chief concern is public safety as well.

The hearing will continue here at the administrative law court in Columbia Wednesday.

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