The long-stalled Interstate 73 project that would link Myrtle Beach with Interstate 95 may be moving forward again.
The US Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday it had issued a modified public notice last week for the more than 300 acres of wetlands that would be affected by the interstate’s construction. The agency responsible for regulating wetland damage had first issued the notice five years ago, but environmental and cost concerns stalled the project. The South Carolina Department of Transportation had since shifted its focus away from the highway’s construction and more into maintenance and widening existing routes.
Members of the public have until August 8 to comment on the proposed land swap. Conservation groups have previously opposed I-73
A major difference in the new permit request by SCDOT is the offsets the agency proposes for the 4,600 linear feet of streams and more than 320 acres of wetlands that would be destroyed to build the freeway. SCDOT is proposing to protect a 6,100-acre parcel of land known as “Gunter’s Island.” The site has nearly 4,600 acres of wetlands and includes an 11-mile corridor of the Little Pee Dee River further south from I-73’s potential impact. It is currently owned by a timber company, but SCDOT has reached an agreement to purchase the land if its permit is approved.
SCDOT Commission members voted to submit the new environmental impact proposal late last year. While the Corps of Engineers must approve the plan, its regulators said state law would require South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to also approve the project.
Commission Chairman Mike Wooten, an Horry County resident who strongly supports the project, said he thinks it unlikely the Corps would request public comments unless its regulators already have a favorable opinion of the idea.
“It means they are satisfied with the application, with the mitigation, and it is their understanding that all the other federal and state agencies were satisfied, as well,” Wooten told South Carolina Radio Network. “Which means that at the end of public notice, unless somebody appeals it, we’ll have a permit to build I-73.”
Even if the permit is approved, SCDOT would still have to come up with funding for the project. Recognizing a lack of state enthusiasm, supporters are floating the idea of local funding by making I-73 a toll route to help pay off its construction. That plan would require financial help from Horry County.