With any new proposed project, one of the first questions asked is, “how long until you can make a decision?” With every project, the answer is different, and the Charleston District’s regulatory division truly doesn’t know how long it will take to make a decision at the beginning of the process. That’s because there are reviews, studies, approvals from other agencies, and much more that goes in to each permit decision. But the first step toward a decision in the individual permit process is to ask for public comments on the proposal.
One project that has recently begun a new stage in the review process is the proposed Interstate 73 project from the South Carolina Department of Transportation. This project dates back to 1991 when the U.S. Congress passed an act identifying a potential new interstate in South Carolina as part of a highway system that would connect Detroit, Mich., to Charleston. After several studies by the SCDOT, this proposal was changed to have the highway lead to Myrtle Beach instead.
Between 2005 and 2011, several public meetings were held, comments were solicited, and Environmental Impact Statements were completed, and a Department of Army permit application was submitted, however after much coordination with Corps, SCDOT decided to submit a revised application changing the mitigation plan as well as minor modifications throughout the project. Due to the changes in mitigation, the proposed project, and the lapse of time from the original public notice (2011), the proposed project was put back on public notice and the comment period officially ended on August 8th.
“Our permitting process balances the need from the project with the impacts that result from that to the environment; specifically wetlands and streams,” said Steve Brumagin, project manager. “We’ll be looking at the impact of the proposed road on the environment and how those impacts can be mitigated.”
More than 1,000 comments were received in the mail and they will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition or deny a permit for this project. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and other public interest factors.
“Comments are a crucial part of our permitting process and we received such a large number of comments because this is one of the largest SCDOT projects the Corps has been involved with,” said Brumagin. “The number of comments is relative to how large the project is.”
The proposed I-73 project stretches approximately 76 miles from the North Carolina border, near Bennettsville, to S.C. 22, near Conway. The project runs mostly through rural South Carolina and would impact approximately 325 acres of wetlands and 4,600 linear feet of streams. The biggest difference in the new proposal is the mitigation for affected wetlands, which is proposed as protecting an 11 mile stretch of streams and swamps near the east side of the Little Pee Dee River known as Gunter’s Island, a 6,000 acre tract.
SCDOT hopes that I-73 will enhance connectivity in the nation and region while boosting economic development opportunities and tourism along the corridor. Additionally, SCDOT believes I-73 would alleviate possible congestion issues associated with hurricane evacuation.