Conservationists ask judge to reconsider decision in International Drive case

Conservationists ask judge to reconsider decision in International Drive case

From WMBF News partner

Two conservation groups on Thursday asked a judge to reconsider his decision in the International Drive case.

Last week, Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson ruled that Horry County had properly obtained the permits for paving and widening nearly six miles of the road from Carolina Forest to S.C. 90. Anderson rejected conservationists' arguments that the project would harm the black bears in the area.

But the S.C. Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Wildlife Federation — the groups that brought the case — filed a motion Thursday asking Anderson to reconsider his order, said Nancy Cave, north coast director for the Coastal Conservation League.

County officials said they have 10 days to respond to the environmental groups' motion. If the judge doesn't change his mind, the conservationists could take their case to the S.C. Court of Appeals, possibly in late September.

An appeal could delay the project for a year or longer.

County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said the county would respond to the conservationists' motion.

"[I'm] disappointed, especially considering the strong ruling that was issued by the judge in our favor," he said, pointing out that Anderson agreed with the county on the key points of the case. "I don't think it left any room for any other clarification."

The court fight stems from a road project that Horry County voters approved in a 2006 sales tax hike referendum. International Drive is one of the last unfinished projects from the county's road-building program, RIDE II.

Construction was supposed to begin in 2015, but environmental objections put the brakes on the project.

Both groups challenged the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's issuance of a water quality permit for the project.

They objected to International Drive as designed, demanding that it incorporate a network of bear tunnels to grant safe passage for the bears, as well as reduced speed limits, fewer lanes and taller fencing.

County officials argued the bear population near the road has dwindled to the point that tunnels are an unnecessary expense.

The county has also been critical of what it says is the true objective of environmentalists — to prohibit development of privately owned lands near International Drive.

The league and wildlife federation acknowledge they're opposed to development along the road, but deny that's their sole motivation.

Lazarus said the conservationists' arguments about bears had nothing to do with a water quality permit, even though that was the basis for the legal action.

"This really doesn't have anything to do with bears or wildlife or anything like that," he said. "They need to move on to something else."

By Charles Perry

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