From WMBF News Partner MyHorryNews.com:
The S.C. Court of Appeals on Friday agreed to allow Horry County to continue building International Drive.
The court had forced the county to halt construction until an appeal from two conservation groups challenging the project could be heard. But the court reversed that decision this week.
"After careful consideration and based on the representations made by the parties since the court's initial issuance of the stay, we no longer believe a stay 'is necessary to preserve jurisdiction of the appeal or to prevent a contested issue from becoming moot,'" the court wrote.
The Coastal Conservation League and the S.C. Wildlife Federation have filed legal actions against the county and argued that paving and widening the 5.6-mile stretch of road between Carolina Forest and S.C. 90 would damage area wetlands.
Last month, the appeals court ordered the county to stop work on the project. The conservationists said the court needed to intervene to prevent the groups' appeal from becoming meaningless.
The court's order on Friday says the county can continue working on the road as long as the county doesn't connect the road to nearby properties until a final decision is reached in the case.
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.
County officials were elated with Friday's decision to overturn that ruling.
"We're hoping this is the last hurdle," County Councilman Johnny Vaught said.
The conservation groups, however, said their fight will continue.
"It's unclear from the order why the court reversed course from its original order staying construction, but we certainly are going to seek reconsideration," said Amy Armstrong, an attorney for the environmental groups.