February 7, 2016

Transportation funding panel gives Charleston County deadline to fund I-526

Proposed route of I-526 (green) (Courtesy: SCDOT)

Proposed route of I-526 (green) (Courtesy: SCDOT)

Charleston County now has three months to find more than $350 million, or else the much-debated extension of Interstate 526 could be abandoned.

The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) board on Tuesday set a March 30 deadline for Charleston County to come up the difference between the project’s initial cost and the latest estimates. But county officials say the timeline is unrealistically short and potentially illegal, meaning the project’s entire future could hang in the balance.

“I think it’s going to be difficult for the extension of Interstate 526 to stay alive,” state Transportation Commission Chairman Jim Rozier told South Carolina Radio Network. Rozier said he supports the project, but still voted for the March deadline in order to bring it up for reconsideration at a later date.

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Groups deliver letter opposing offshore drilling to Gov. Haley

Businesses and organizations opposed to drilling off South Carolina’s coast made their case to Gov. Nikki Haley Wednesday.

Organizers of the Don’t Drill SC Lowcountry group said they want Haley to ensure that the state is not included in any federal plans for offshore drilling. South Carolina has not publicly opposed efforts by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to open up segments of the south Atlantic to oil and gas exploration. BOEM is in the process of granting permits for those companies to use “seismic testing” (mapping the ocean floor through the use of sound waves) to search for deposits.

Kathie Livingston of the South Carolina Nature-Based Tourism and Paddlesports Industries Associations told South Radio Carolina Network that the governor is receptive to parts of the federal plan. “The governor is still listening and open to comments for the seismic testing,” Livingston said Wednesday.

Haley has previously voiced support for offshore drilling in general, but the group hopes the governor may come out against specific projects. “She has not said she is for the drilling, yet,” said Livingston.

The federal government is nearing a decision on whether to allow companies to lease areas of the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas testing.

Congressman Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, came out against offshore drilling earlier this year. In a letter to federal officials last week, he wrote that the government needs to slow down and do more studies.





Congressman Sanford joins letter opposing search for offshore oil, gas

This image shows an example of seismic surveys (USGS)

This image shows an example of seismic surveys (USGS)

South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford is one of 33 House members asking the federal government to halt the permitting process for exploration of oil and natural gas in the south Atlantic Ocean.

Sanford was one of the signatures in a letter sent to the federal Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management last week. The letter comes after the agency began granting permits for firms to use “seismic surveys” to seek out possible oil and gas deposits in the Atlantic.

The surveys use “air guns,” which are towed behind vessels and shoot blasts of compressed air through the water and into the seabed. Researchers use reflections from the blast to map out the ocean floor, identify underwater fault lines, and analyze geologic formations that could hint about buried oil and gas deposits.

Environmentalists oppose the seismic guns, arguing the loud blasts can deafen and injure marine animals. But the energy industry responds there is no evidence the testing has caused a negative impact in the ocean habitats over its use in the Gulf of Mexico the past 30 years.

Sanford, who was one of just 8 Republicans on the letter, wrote energy companies would not share information about what the surveys found. The letter argued the information would allow states make a reasonable analysis of the benefits and risks posed by offshore drilling.

Grand Strand beaches unlikely to be replenished for several years after floods

Horry County officials say it will likely take several years before tons of sand washed off Grand Strand beaches during last month’s storms can be replaced.

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reports that sand replenishment is not eligible for federal aid that traditionally comes through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds. A Myrtle Beach spokesman said the 25-mile stretch of beach that lost sand during exceptionally strong tides is already part of an Army Corps of Engineers project and is unlikely to get emergency funding late in the budgeting process this year.

Officials said they are working to get Grand Strand beaches added to the Army Corps of Engineers’ 2018 replenishment projects.

The paper reports the last replenishment cost $30 million to replace 750,000 cubic yards of sand. Federal funding covered 65 percent, while the state and county split the rest.

The Army Corps of Engineers is still working on a damage estimate for the entire region, but the spokesman said about 290,000 cubic yards of sand had been reported lost by Myrtle Beach officials. Horry County reported an additional loss of roughly 200,000 cubic yards between Myrtle Beach State Park and Surfside Beach.

Duke Energy gets 40-year license for Catawba River

Kayakers at the Lake Wylie Dam near Fort Mill -- part of Duke's network in SC (Image: SCDNR)

Kayakers at the Lake Wylie Dam near Fort Mill — part of Duke’s network in SC (Image: SCDNR)

The federal government has approved Duke Energy’s license to manage 225 miles of the Catawba River in North Carolina and South Carolina for another four decades.

The Charlotte Observer reports the license renewal was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Wednesday and made retroactive to Nov. 1. Duke’s license had expired in 2008, but legal challenges from environmental groups forced a long delay in the process as the utility sought an extension.

Duke, a Charlotte-based corporation, had initially sought a 50-year renewal for its 13 hydroelectric stations and 11 reservoirs along the river system.

In exchange for the new license, Duke has agreed to conserve $16 million in land, spend $4 million more in developing public recreation sites and build passages so fish can get around the dam that creates Lake Wateree in South Carolina.

The Catawba River flows slightly west of Charlotte before crossing into South Carolina near Rock Hill and flowing into a string of manmade lakes that ends with Lake Wateree northwest of Camden. The river that flows south of the dam is known as the Wateree River.