Bills making their way through the S.C. House and Senate would weaken the ability of state residents to challenge construction in environmentally sensitive areas across South Carolina. We think that’s the wrong approach.
Bills in both houses seek to limit legal challenges to state environmental permits that protect habitat and wildlife. The bills seek to speed up construction of controversial projects that are opposed by residents.
One example is a project being pushed by Horry County lawmakers who are in a battle with environmentalists about construction of a new road through prime bear habitat in a nature preserve near Myrtle Beach. Proponents of the project say the road is essential to relieving traffic congestion in Myrtle Beach.
Opponents say the road would destroy much of the habitat and imperil bears, which might run in front of cars. Environmentalists say the project at least should include barriers to keep bears off the road.
For now, however, the case is under legal appeal at the S.C. Administrative Law Court. Under current law, projects under appeal are halted until all appeals have been resolved by the court.
The bills now being considered in the Legislature would allow development to proceed before the appeals are resolved. That, we think, has it backward.
Letting work begin before appeals are resolved would severely limit the ability of ordinary resident to challenge bureaucratic decisions. In essence, protected land would be at the mercy of developers, who could begin potentially destructive projects before a final decision has been made regarding the legitimacy of the project.
In many cases, no doubt, the damage to environmentally sensitive areas would not be able to be undone if developers lose the case on appeal. We think the appeals process needs to be completed before work begins.
These cases are not limited to environmentally pristine land. In some cases, residents have opposed construction of landfills that not only would destroy habitat but also would affect the economic well-being of nearby residents.
The answer to shortening the appeals process is to put pressure on the Administrative Law Court to make a decision. There is no reason why such cases should languish for more than a year.
Denying residents the right to challenge projects is not the way to resolve the logjam. The appeals process needs to be able to proceed to its final conclusion.
-- The (Rock Hill) Herald