International Drive motions heard in federal court for first time

International Drive motions heard in federal court for first time

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - International Drive had its first hearing in federal court on Friday.

"People want it. People need it," said Johnny Vaught, Horry County Council member for District 8. "It's a public safety issue. It's a convenience issue. It's a great thing for the whole county."

After four hours of arguments on two different motions at the John J. McMillan Federal Building in Florence, the judge decided to take the matters under advisement.

He's deciding on a motion for preliminary injunction and a motion for contempt.

The preliminary injunction would pause construction until a full trial is held.

"Our biggest concern is that with a property like Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve being right there by International Drive that we're going to have damage occur on that property that can't be undone, damage that may have not been necessary," said Lisa Turansky, chief conservation officer for the Coastal Conservation League.

The CCL, represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, is suing Horry County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for what SCELP said is an improper permit.

SCELP argues the Army Corps of Engineers did not do a proper analysis by doing an environmental assessment instead of a more rigorous environmental impact study of the full effects the road will have on the wetlands and surrounding area to issue the permit.

The lawyer for the Corps told the judge Friday the organization did go through all of the proper steps to look at environmental effects and came to the decision to issue the permit.

A temporary restraining order was already agreed upon by both sides and applied to certain aspects of construction of International Drive. Those restrictions are in place until the judge makes a decision about the preliminary injunction.

However, the CCL said Horry County did not follow it.

Turansky said people told them construction was still going on, so CCL flew a photographer over the construction site and viewed construction activities that go against what CCL's understanding was of what had been decided in the temporary restraining order.

That's why the CCL motioned for contempt.

"We don't know exactly what's been done," Turansky said. "And we don't know what is included in that agreement moving forward for that temporary restraining order."

SCELP's Amy Armstrong said even though some of the wetlands started to be filled before the temporary restraining order was put in place, those wetlands shouldn't continue to be filled under the order.

However, Horry County's attorney, Stan Barnett, said the county's understanding of the order is the wetlands that had started being filled prior to the order could continue to be worked on.

"We continue to fill where we had already started to fill," Vaught said. "We just didn't do anything new, which was what we agreed to."

Armstrong will go out to the construction site for a tour to see what has been done.

The lawyers are supposed to try to reach a temporary agreement on the restraining order. Additionally, the judge asked if they're interested in mediation before this trial at all, even though he knows it's been contentious and both sides say they are.

Armstrong said coming to an agreement has been the preference all along. Barnett added he's not sure if he's optimistic about the possibility of mediation.

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