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I-73 Wetland Proposal Delayed to May 18

SCDOT's wetland mitigation proposal to the SC Department of Natural Resources has been delayed two weeks to May 18. The proposal was to be announced on May 3.

Both the DOT and the DNR said that they weren't close enough to an agreement, but they continue to work towards a resolution. Both agencies want to have as detailed and complete a proposal as possible.

At the same time, the Heritage Trust Board is preparing a report on the impact the I-73 project, specifically a bridge near SC 917 that crosses the Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve. The highway and bridge would impact 27 acres.

After the DOT's proposal is presented, a special meeting of the Heritage Trust Board will be called to review and consider the DOT's proposal. In the past, the Heritage Trust Board and the DNR have expressed concern on the environmental impact of the Interstate, but they have expressed a strong interest in working with the DOT because of the necessity of the project to the region.

The Trust Board's decision is not binding.

Story:
I-73 compensation plan delayed ---Myrtle Beach Sun News

See Also:
SCDOT to present wetland replacement proposal on May 3rd
SC: I-73 wetland trade halted
SC: Heritage Trust Board won't fight I-73 but expects compensation

Commentary:

In a story that describes that the DOT and DNR are working to make sure they have all their bases covered, I noticed one thing. Comments by David Farren of the Southern Environmental Law Center. His comments about the damage to Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve and suggestions that I-73 be built along existing SC 9 or US 501 isn't anything different. But he continues to point out that Federal law prohibits the damage to the wetlands.

In the last story, Farren mentioned that the law prohibits highways from disturbing nature preserves unless there are no other viable options. Which he considers SC 9 or US 501 to be. In the most recent article, he states that this decision would be a precedent-setting one.

The DOT counters that the other alternatives -- SC 9 and US 501 specifically -- would do more environmental damage than the current route. And that they have the numbers to prove it. The DOT also claims that they continue to do field studies and that the results have confirmed their position.

So, what does this all mean. I believe that if the DNR and DOT come to an agreement on a wetland compensation package that the Southern Environmental Law Center will try to block the route. After the May 30, 2006 selection of the current preferred route, the SELC sent a letter to SCDOT voicing their concerns on July 28th.

In the letter, the SELC voice their concerns over the thoroughness of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) completed by the DOT. 1) The DOT did not weigh all the environmental impact concerns when choosing the preferred corridor. 2) Consideration of the fragmentation of habitat, specifically 45 miles of new highway on undeveloped coastal plain. In addition, the DOT did not consider upgrades to SC 38, US 501 and SC 9 as a possibility. 3) Ignoring Section 4(f) of the Federal Transportation Act of 1966. This specifically deals with their objections to the Little Pee Dee Bridge at SC 917 and the impacts to the Wildlife Preserve. 4) That the state ignored where the northern part of I-73 (from I-95 to the North Carolina Line) will be routed and how to tie the two highways together. They state that the DOT prematurely eliminated a corridor along SC 9 that the DOT's CAT tool showed as having the least environmental impact.

The letter which is 16 pages long can be found here.

In reading this letter, which I hope to dissect in a later blog entry, voices strong objections to the selected route and the thoroughness of the DEIS. That along with statements made in the press by the SELC is why I think that there will most likely be a legal challenge to I-73

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