Horry County to purchase 3,700 acres along International Drive for conservation

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County is moving forward on a roughly $13 million deal to purchase land along International Drive strictly for conservation.

County leaders passed a resolution during Tuesday night's council meeting to transfer funds to purchase undeveloped property for the fulfillment of a wetland mitigation for RIDE III and other capital projects. The resolution said approximately 3,729 acres of land will provide wetland mitigation in Horry County, with the governing body approving the transfer within the RIDE II project budget of up to $12.9 million.

"It's not often that we're able to talk about leaving lasting legacies in local government," Horry County Councilman Mark Lazarus said after county council approved the resolution.

Lazarus said the county expects to close on the sale of the property by the end of February. He added there will be no housing or any other development whatsoever on the land. However, hopes are that it could possible be used for recreational activities such as biking, hiking, bird watching and hunting.

The Coastal Conservation League challenged the county and the state for years about paving International Drive here, but ultimately dismissed the lawsuit in 2017.

Erin Pate, the League's north coast office director, said, in concept, the organization supports what the county is doing to preserve the property.

"This is an awesome move on their part," Pate said. "We would hope that Horry County would use our decades of experience in land conservation to help construct a plan that is really good for Horry County and for the taxpayers."

The plan also includes the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Sean McBride, spokesman for the Charleston district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the land is considered a mitigation bank site, which means an area that needs wetlands restoration or improvements. The goal of the Corps is, "no net loss of wetland" and if a wetland will be filled or impacted in one area, the goal is to preserve and enhance wetlands in another area to offset it.

"In Horry County's RIDE III program, there are lots of road projects that will be impacting wetlands. They are required to mitigate damage to wetlands by protecting wetlands in another place," Pate said.

If the work is completed, Horry County could receive a certain amount of credits from the government while completing other infrastructure projects such as RIDE III work.

The county believes its one of the largest projects of land conservation they've seen. Pate said the property is special.

"This particular piece of property is contiguous with Lewis Oceans Bay Heritage Preserve, which sort of puts together a green belt if you will in Horry County amongst all  the development," she said.

By conserving the land, there would be no future development allowed.

"I think residents of Carolina Forest would be thrilled to know this land is going to be kept natural into perpetuity, as well as a buffer in the area and in the future, potentially, an area for walking trails and that kind of thing," Pate said.

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