Two proposed laws that could limit landowners’ ability to indefinitely delay construction projects that impact land or air near their property advanced through a Senate subcommittee Thursday with a 2-1 vote.
Right now, landowners can pay $600 for South Carolina’s environmental agency DHEC to issue an automatic stay on any permits it approves. The automatic stay prevents the company or individual granted the permit from acting on it until a judge rules on appeals from environmental groups or neighbors.
Lexington County resident Linda Curtis, who hopes to appeal a recent DHEC permit that allows a new Leesville granite quarry, said the price of paying that bond is too high.
“That could put it at millions of dollars, someone like me could never afford that,” she said. “Citizens are busy raising their families, going to college and running their businesses.”
State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield voted in favor of the bill. He said landowners should be responsible for paying the costs of delaying construction once a project is approved, or else get an injunctive order from a judge to block the project.
“If you’ve got a legitimate case, if you have evidence there is going to be irreparable harm, the injunctive relief that applies to everything else in state law is still there,” he said.
But environmental attorney Bob Guild said injunctive orders are not easily obtained by individual land owners. “They make it sound like it is routine, it’s just not,” he said.
Guild says that landowners are already up against odds when dealing with construction companies who hire the nation’s top lawyers and adding additional legal steps weakens a landowner’s rights.
State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, was the lone “no” vote. He argued the General Assembly should have learned from the Pinewood Site experience, when a Sumter County landfill operator went bankrupt and left millions of dollars worth of contamination to be cleaned. McElveen said landowners should have the right, “to challenge, and a lot of times stop, what are bad or questionable bureaucratic decisions,” having to do with their property.
The two bills will move on to a full Senate Judiciary Committee meeting next week.