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    WPDE: Old evacuation plan gets new support

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    A long-shelved plan to give South Strand residents more options during emergency evacuations could get a place on the government's priority list, if State Representative Lee Hewitt gets his way.

    The Southern Evacuation Life Line, a project listed in the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study's (GSATS) 2040 Plan, would connect Highway 31 to Highway 378 west of Conway. As a limited access road, it would be designed to move people from the Waccamaw Neck area inland quickly, while decreasing congestion on Highways 17 and 501.

    "As we're trying to get people out of the area to safety in case of a hurricane evacuation, and the only route is Highway 17 through the Waccamaw Neck, it could easily be congested or come to a standstill by one accident," Hewitt explained.

    Hewitt said the project was originally shelved after funding for it was given to another project. He wants to see it built sooner, as the population of the Grand Strand continues to increase.

    "If we could find a way to get that traffic off the Waccamaw Neck and around Georgetown, that would alleviate a lot of trouble," Hewitt said.

    The project is opposed by environmental groups, saying it would increase traffic and destroy wildlife habitats.

    But several people in Murrells Inlet said they support the project.

    "There's nothing but positive as far as I'm concerned, putting another evacuation route through the town," Ryan Newman said.

    Click here for the story.

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    Rep. Hewitt: Southern Evacuation Lifeline and Georgetown Bypass merit higher priority in regional transportation plan

    MURRELLS INLET -- State Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Murrells Inlet, Wednesday said that a Grand Strand transportation plan needs to give a higher priority to the Southern Evacuation Lifeline road project and Georgetown Bypass to reduce traffic congestion and expedite hurricane evacuations, particularly for the Waccamaw Neck area of Georgetown County.

    In a letter to the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study on their draft 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, Hewitt wrote “Concerns about transportation, particularly growing traffic congestion on the Waccamaw Neck and hurricane evacuation needs, are among the top issues I hear about from constituents. Development of the Southern Evacuation Lifeline road project and a bypass around the city of Georgetown must be given a much higher priority in the transportation plan.”

    Click here for the letter.

    Hewitt cites studies by SCDOT and the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce that say the SELL project will reduce traffic congestion, improve road network efficiency and significantly expedite hurricane evacuations, particularly for Georgetown County.

    “With the soon to be completed widening of Hwy 707 and the upcoming extension of Hwy 31 to North Carolina, traffic from these two roads will flow into Murrells Inlet and the Waccamaw Neck,” Hewitt said. “There needs to be traffic relief valves for the Waccamaw Neck in the form of the SELL and Georgetown Bypass.”

    “The SELL and Georgetown Bypass road projects are vital to reducing traffic congestion and vastly expediting hurricane evacuations. On behalf of my constituents, I ask that GSATS give these projects a much higher priority in the transportation plan,” Hewitt wrote.

    The SELL is a proposed 28-mile controlled access highway connecting Hwy 31 with U.S. 378 that would improve access across the Waccamaw River between Conway and Georgetown.

    The plan places the SELL and Georgetown Bypass near the bottom of the prioritization list for S.C. roads in the GSATS planning area.

    Click here for the draft GSATS transportation plan.

    GSATS coordinates federally mandated urban transportation planning and is governed by a 24-person policy committee, with representatives from jurisdictions and transportation agencies from Brunswick County, N.C. to Georgetown.

    The 30-day comment period on the plan ends Friday.

    Hewitt, a Murrells Inlet Realtor, serves on the GSATS policy committee and was a member of the SELL Task Force.

    Hewitt serves on the House Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and Environmental Affairs Subcommittee, Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee and Offshore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee.

    He is also a former S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board member.

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    Hewitt tells feds to drop oil drilling off S.C., calls plan ‘Russian roulette’ with oil rigs

    MURRELLS INLET – State Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Murrells Inlet, Monday sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management expressing his opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling off South Carolina. Hewitt’s letter emphatically says “sooner or later” an oil spill disaster will harm the coast and asks that S.C. offshore waters be removed from consideration from any offshore oil and gas leasing plan proposal.

    “Tourism produces as much as $19 billion annually and provides one in ten South Carolinians jobs. We cannot afford to risk harming such a major part of our economy by effectively playing Russian roulette with oil rigs off our coast,” Hewitt says in his letter to BOEM Acting Director Dr. Walter Cruickshank. “Sooner or later our coast will catch a bullet in the form of a major oil spill disaster.”

    Click here for the letter.

    “It is clear the coastal areas of South Carolina are very concerned about the impacts of oil spills on the beaches, marine life and the tourism industry, and understandably have taken strong positions opposing drilling,” continued Hewitt. “There is no way offshore oil and gas drilling can be conducted that will guarantee no oil spills and no resulting environmental and economic disasters.”

    All of the municipalities in Hewitt’s coastal district along Georgetown and Charleston counties – Pawleys Island, McClellanville, Awendaw and Mt. Pleasant – have gone on record as opposing offshore oil and gas drilling. Last week, the Georgetown County Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing drilling.

    “On behalf of my constituents, I oppose oil and gas development off the South Carolina coast, as well as all waters of the Atlantic in the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and ask that the Atlantic be excluded from the program,” Hewitt wrote.

    In late April, President Trump signed an Executive Order implementing an offshore energy strategy that includes oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, overturning President Obama’s decision to exclude the Atlantic from drilling.

    On July 3rd, the BOEM began a 45-day comment period on a new oil and gas leasing program that includes the Atlantic. The comment period will close on August 17th.

    Hewitt, a Murrells Inlet Realtor, was appointed in May to the state House Offshore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee that will make recommendations concerning oil and gas drilling off South Carolina.

    Hewitt serves on the House Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and Environmental Affairs Subcommittee and House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee.

    He is also a former S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board member.

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