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SCDOT to present I-73 wetland replacement proposal on May 3rd

It looks like SCDOT may soon clear an environmental hurdle when they present a plan to replace 27 acres of wetlands on May 3rd. If approved, the plan will replace 27 acres of wetlands in the Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve that will be impacted by construction of Interstate 73 through the area.

Approval of the wetland replacement proposal is necessary for SCDOT to get federal permits that will allow them to build the new highway. The DOT and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are working together on the plan.

Recently, the SC Legislature made two attempts to allow recent wetland gains by the state as compensation for the affected 27 acres. Both attempts failed.

The DNR has stated it would not oppose I-73 even though some environmental-oriented groups have been vocal against it.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, based in Chapel Hill, is one of the groups hoping that the routing through the preserve can still be changed. They point to federal law that prohibits building a highway through a nature preserve unless there are no other viable alternatives. The group suggests that I-73 should be built over existing highways like SC 9 and US 501 vs. the preferred alignment which blazes its own path.

SCDOT responds that using other routes disturbs more wetlands and that the route through the Little Pee Dee Preserve actually impacts nearly 40 less acres than other alternatives.

Heritage Trust Advisory Board Chris McShane acknowledges that he has heard from groups and individuals wanting the DNR to fight I-73. However, he also is getting pressure from those wanting to build the highway and claiming that the board is taking it's good old time.

Some legislatures have claimed that the DNR and the Advisory Board is trying to stall the highway, but McShane notes that it is only the group taking the time necessary on an important decision and how the decision will have a precedent on future highways that may impact other preserves.

There was no indication that the plan would be voted on immediately when revealed on May 3rd.

Story Link:
DOT plans I-73 payback for preserve --Myrtle Beach Sun News

See Also:
Southern Environmental Law Center I-73 and US 701 Connector
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

Prior entries:
SC: I-73 wetland trade halted
SC: Heritage Trust Board won't fight I-73

Small progress here, but what is more important is that the DNR and DOT continue to work together towards a resolution and that May 3rd is when a formal plan is introduced. The article also shows the tremendous political pressure the Heritage Trust Advisory Board and the DNR is under in making the decision.

In one corner, you have legislators claiming that they are holding back the project, when the DNR and the board deny they are. State Representative Alan Clemmons being what appears to be the most vocal. On the other side, groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) are against the current preferred routing of I-73 and wish for it to be changed. The DNR has stated in numerous occasions that they will not fight the construction of Interstate 73.

What will be interesting is if the DNR and DOT come to an agreement what groups like the SELC will do. Will they start up their own opposition to I-73? Or will they support the possible agreement. I am not sure what will happen. At the most, they are currently doing their own due diligence. However a few comments in the article from an SELC lawyer, David Farren, may give insight on what the SELC reaction and future steps will be.

"There are still some very important unanswered questions about the routing," Farren said.

Federal law forbids disturbing a nature preserve unless there is no alternative, but in this case there are alternatives, he said. The legal requirements will make what the DOT wants to do "very tricky," he said.

A look at the SELC's I-73 website discusses their opposition to a once proposed southern routing of the Interstate, which has been removed from consideration. It appears that they worked with SCDOT during the study and were pleased with the removal of that corridor. The corridor in question that would route the Interstate 73 south of US 501 saw numerous environmental concerns. There is no current statements by the SELC on their website on the preferred I-73 corridor.


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