HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner said the reason for canceling the financial partnership agreement for Interstate 73 was simply because the county can’t pay for it alone.
The county council unanimously voted to cancel that agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The sole reason council came to the conclusion that the agreement needed to be cancelled was, per the terms of that agreement, Horry County was committed to providing annual funds to SCDOT that it will not have,” Gardner said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
Myrtle Beach filed a lawsuit in March, accusing Horry County of illegally taking millions of dollars in hospitality fees from municipalities.
The hospitality fees that Horry County had been collecting for years was set to be used to help pay for I-73. But now that they’re in a legal battle with municipalities, it has left the county with no revenue source to pay for the work.
Gardner states that while Myrtle Beach city leaders support I-73, they haven’t committed any funding to the project to date.
He added the “little funding” the federal government has provided over the last 30 days has been primarily used for work and purchase of right-of-ways in counties other than Horry County.
“While vocally supporting I-73, our legislative delegation has not brought any funding to the table,” Gardner stated. “What Horry County Council said with its vote last night (Tuesday) is the county cannot be the only government committing long term funding to the project. We can’t build the road ourselves.”
Gardner added that other government representatives should “step up and provide firm appropriations” for I-73 if they are serious about seeing it built.
Congressman Tom Rice called the county’s decision an “awful shame” in a statement released shortly after the vote.
“Completion of I-73 would lead to thousands of more jobs in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee. It would bring more industry and higher pay,” Rice said.
Rice, who has been a key backer of the road being built, told WMBF News he believes the area is often overlooked but he’s working to get support on the state and national level.
“I think historically, I always felt like as a resident of the Grand Strand and the Pee Dee that we were a little overlooked. When I was on county council in Horry County, I felt like we were overlooked by the state and by the federal government. But that’s what I’ve worked on since I’ve been here is garnering the support of people at the national and at the state level," Rice said.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons said it is “disappointing” that the argument between Myrtle Beach and Horry County over hospitality fees has resulted in the end of the county’s contract with SCDOT for I-73.
“It is my hope and belief that this issue will be resolved soon by the parties or otherwise,” Clemmons said.
Myrtle Beach spokesperson Mark Kruea said city leaders remain committed to I-73 and have made no suggestion otherwise to the county.
“The city is unaware of any municipality within Horry County which does not support I-73 funding,” Kruea said in a statement.
North Myrtle Beach spokesperson Pat Dowling said the county council’s vote may change how I-73 is funded, “but that does not necessarily eliminate I-73 from our future.”
“There is always hope until there is no hope,” Dowling said, in part.
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Karen Riordan said the organization continues to advocate for local, state and federal funding for I-73.
"We remain confident that our community will find a way to make I-73 a reality in the future,” Riordan said.