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.


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.


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.


Busy representing the district

I wanted you to know that while the legislative session is over, I’m still busy representing the district.

Last month, I was honored to be with McClellanville Mayor Rut Leland and his wife Kathy at the unveiling of his portrait at town hall. Mayor Leland is the longest serving mayor in S.C. history, having served for over 41 years so far. I’m proud that he’s a constituent of mine and appreciate the outstanding job he does for the town and coastal area.

Also last month, I was pleased to be named a “Business Champion” by the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, who gave me a 100 score on their latest legislative scorecard. I’m one of only 24 in the 124-member House to receive their highest score.

This month, I met with Army Corps of Engineers officials about the upcoming renourishment project for 7.5 miles of beaches in North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, Surfside and Garden City. The project got accelerated due to contractor availability and is now starting this week in Surfside Beach.

While we’re very appreciative of the needed beach renourishment, I shared with the Corps my concerns about the impacts of the work on visitors this summer. It looks like the impacts on Georgetown County tourism will be less, as the project is not scheduled to start in Garden City until after Labor Day.

Last week, I got a chance to meet with Horry-Georgetown Tech president Dr. Murph Fore at the unveiling of the design plans for the Advanced Manufacturing Center for the Georgetown campus. The center will offer training in advanced welding, CNC machine tool, robotics and the mechantronics programs – skilled jobs that employers are having a hard time filling. I appreciate the great job Dr. Fore and HGTC are doing in providing much needed training for our workforce.

I was in Greenville last Wednesday as a member of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee for our first public hearing, which was well attended. We heard compelling testimony about this addiction epidemic from parents who lost children to overdoses, law enforcement officers and addiction counselors.

This bipartisan committee is working to find legislative ways to help fight addiction and curb the hundreds of opioid-related overdose deaths in the state. We’ve got to conquer this problem as soon as possible.

I’m privileged to represent District 108 in the House! Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt

Please click here to donate to my reelection campaign.


School buses

After casting over 700 votes, my first session as a member of the House of Representatives is likely over for this year after the House approved the state budget on June 6th on a 100 to 9 vote.

Gov. McMaster vetoed a little over $56 million in spending from the budget, of which $20.5 million was for new school buses. While I may vote to sustain some of the Governor’s vetoes when the House returns in January, I can’t support his veto of the school bus funding in light of the fire hazard of our aging bus fleet.

According to a recent report in The State, “Seventeen buses have caught fire or dangerously overheated since August 2015…some with children aboard.” We’ve got to fix this problem.

On June 9th, the S.C. Business and Industry Political Education Committee, a statewide pro-business group, issued their scorecard on how each House member voted on business related legislation for the session. I’m pleased to report I scored in the top 25 percent of the House.

Speaking of business, last week I sent a letter to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in opposition to their proposal to limit the number of charter and head boats that can participate in the snapper-grouper fishery. There simply isn’t any scientific justification for this action and it’s clear the overwhelming majority of fishermen oppose this.

Click here for the letter.

In my youth, I worked as a deckhand on numerous charter and head boats out of Murrells Inlet, so I’m very familiar with the business and its economic importance to the inlet and the district as a whole.

And finally, congratulations to Dr. Gerald Harmon for his election last week as chairman of the American Medical Association, the largest physicians group in the country. Dr. Harmon has practiced medicine in Georgetown County for over 30 years and will do a great job at the national level leading the AMA.

It’s an honor to serve in the House. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt


COASTAL OBSERVER -- Drilling: Hewitt is lone representative for coast on House panel

Hewitt_-_Coastal_Observer.jpgOffshore drilling is making waves at the State House.

Last week the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee created an ad hoc group to research and study whether or not offshore drilling and seismic testing is right for South Carolina.

“It’s more of a task force than a committee,” state Rep. Lee Hewitt said. He was appointed to the group last week, and is the only representative from a coastal district.

“I’ve been clear in my opposition to offshore drilling off our coast based on what I’ve heard from my constituents, particularly the municipalities I represent,” he said. “I look forward to bringing this perspective to the committee to ensure our coast is protected from a drilling disaster.”

Since the group is new, it will likely not meet until late summer or early fall, and Hewitt is speculative about what the committee will study. “The way it was explained to us was that South Carolina has kind of been told that within the next five years there’s going to be a bull’s-eye on this area and on this subject and that we just need to start exploring and studying it,” Hewitt said. “And trying to do the best we can to protect South Carolina.”

The state’s territorial rights over the ocean extend approximately 3 nautical miles offshore, as measured at mean low tide. The federal government owns mile 3 to mile 200 and has jurisdiction to determine whether or not to lease the area for exploration and drilling.

In 2015, state Department of Health and Environmental Control made an agreement with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Department of the Interior, to grant restricted seismic testing permits to applicants. The agreement was reached without a public hearing, prompting a challenge from the Coastal Conservation League, the S.C. Wildlife Federation and others. The decision was appealed to the DHEC board, but they supported the staff’s decision, Hewitt said.

One permit for testing, submitted by Spectrum GEO, was approved at the state level.

Hewitt was a member of the DHEC board in 2015. “Basically a compromise was reached,” he said. “The feeling was that having a restricted permit was better than having an unrestricted permit.”

The agreement happened in the midst of the Obama administration’s review of the South Atlantic region. South Carolina was not included as part of the administration’s protected coastline, but it did later deny six permits for drilling. Current Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stated he is reviewing the area for the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf program. That action could put the BOEM-DHEC agreement back in play.

The agreement restricts seismic testing from being conducted in water shallower than 98 feet, less than 40 miles off the coast, between April-September due to sea turtle nesting season, and in designated Marine Protected Areas.

Hewitt’s district extends from Murrells Inlet to Dewees Island in Charleston County. He has some ideas about what legislators can do to serve constituents on this issue even if the drilling is out of their hands. “There are other things in the actual drilling that could possibly affect South Carolina,” he said. “The support services and everything that’s needed to support the industry, whatever rules and regulations. I would assume those ideas would be brought up and areas of concern that we need to be looking at.”

Other members of the ad hoc committee represent Greenville, Spartanburg, Berkeley, Aiken, Pickens, Florence, Cherokee and Calhoun counties.

Click here for the article.


A lot happening

I hope you and your family enjoyed the Memorial Day holiday.

A lot has happened since the adjournment of the House of Representatives.

Last week I was honored to be appointed to the House Offshore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee that will consider the issue of oil and gas drilling off South Carolina.

I’ve been clear about my opposition to offshore oil drilling off our state based on what I’ve heard from constituents. All the municipalities in the district have gone on record opposing drilling. I’m glad to have a voice at the table and will work to ensure the committee is well aware of the concerns of the coastal area about an oil spill disaster that could greatly harm our beaches, marine life and tourism industry. Click here for the news release.

On May 19th, Gov. McMaster signed into law the flounder sustainability bill I cosponsored that unanimously passed the House and Senate. It increases the minimum size limit to 15” and reduces the per person limit to 10 fish per day and boat limit to 20 fish per day and will go into effect on July 1st.

The House was scheduled to go back in session last week to consider the state budget and any vetoes from the governor, but because the House and Senate conference committee has been unable to find a compromise on the budget bill, we’re now scheduled to go back in session next week, June 6-8.

Big differences remain between the House and Senate on how to bail out the underfunded pension system and on funding for education and aid to local governments. The Senate has passed a resolution funding state government at current levels in the event a compromise can’t be reached by the July 1st start of the fiscal year. While I’m hopeful a compromise can be reached next week, the House may have to sign off on the stopgap funding legislation.

On Monday, I’ll have the privilege of being in Charleston to tour the Boeing plant and Port of Charleston facilities – both big economic drivers for the district and state.

I was pleased the Army Corps of Engineers last week agreed to provide $17.5 million for the dredging of Charleston Harbor – the final piece of funding needed for the $525 million project to accommodate the very large neo-Panamax container ships and keep the port as a leader in tonnage on the East coast.

I hope this information is helpful.

It’s an honor to serve in the House. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt


Hewitt appointed to House committee looking into offshore oil drilling off S.C.

MURRELLS INLET – State Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, has been appointed to a House committee that will study offshore oil and gas drilling and make recommendations concerning drilling off South Carolina.

“I’m honored to serve on this very important committee,” Hewitt said. “I’ve been clear in my opposition to offshore drilling off our coast based on what I’ve heard from my constituents, particularly the municipalities I represent. I look forward to bringing this perspective to the committee to ensure our coast is protected from a drilling disaster.”

Hewitt was notified of his appointment to the House Offshore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee in a letter this week from House Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens.

In the letter Hiott said, “Offshore drilling is an important issue and several bills have already been introduced. This issue will attract national attention and call for concern from across the state.”

Click here for the letter.

All of the municipalities in Hewitt’s coastal district – Pawleys Island, McClellanville, Awendaw and Mt. Pleasant – have passed resolutions opposing offshore oil drilling.

According to media reports, all of the current mayors of South Carolina coastal cities and towns have taken positions opposing drilling.

“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,” Hewitt said. “My job is to convey these concerns to the committee and work toward an outcome that protects our natural resources and coastal economy.”

Last month President Trump signed an executive order expanding oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, overturning President Obama’s withdrawal of the Atlantic and other areas from drilling consideration.

Hewitt, a freshman legislator, serves on the House Agricultural, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee and the Environmental Affairs Subcommittee. Last month Hewitt was appointed by House Speaker Jay Lucas to the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee.

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


End of session

The final week of the legislative session began with the first meeting of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee on Tuesday morning. House Speaker Jay Lucas gave us our marching orders: find legislative ways to help fight addiction and curb the hundreds of opioid-related overdose deaths in the state. The 16-member bipartisan committee will be working through the summer and fall to find solutions. Click here for media coverage.

The gas tax road infrastructure bill dominated the week.

I voted for the bill negotiated by the House and Senate conference committee because it significantly increases funding for County Transportation Committees. When fully implemented, Georgetown and Charleston counties will receive an additional $1.2 million and $5.8 million respectively per year for local roads. Additionally, the bill reforms the DOT commission, makes commissioners accountable to the governor and provides some tax relief. We’ll also get the benefit of visitors to the state generating about a third of the tax revenues annually.

I’m pleased to report that the flounder sustainability bill, H. 3665, I cosponsored unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday and now heads to Gov. McMaster for his signature as law. The bill increases the minimum size limit to 15” and reduces the per person limit to 10 fish per day and boat limit to 20 fish per day. My thanks to all the fishermen who helped get this bill passed to maintain a healthy flounder stock.

On Wednesday, as part of the freshman House caucus, I got a chance to meet with S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Don Beatty and tour the court. It was a great learning experience to hear Justice Beatty discuss the court system and its funding, caseloads and important qualifications to consider of judicial candidates.

While the legislative session ended last week, a special three day session May 23-25 will take place to approve a state budget and consider any vetoes from the governor.

Today, Monday, May 15th, I’ll be a part of a road infrastructure discussion panel at the East Cooper Republican Club luncheon meeting at noon at the Holiday Inn, 250 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., in Mount Pleasant. I hope you can attend. Please click here for more details.

I’m privileged to serve in the House and represent the citizens of District 108! Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt


Last week

Last week in the House was hectic with efforts to vote on bills that came over from the Senate.

One of the Senate bills we dealt with is the gas tax road infrastructure bill, which differed significantly from our House bill. The House voted against the Senate bill, forcing a conference committee of House and Senate members to work on a compromise.

Late Friday the conference committee reached an agreement that would raise the gas tax by 12 cents over six years, increase car registration fees and sales tax, provide some offsetting tax credits and reductions, and change the way the DOT commission is appointed.

In March, I voted for the House bill after a portion of the tax increase was designated for County Transportation Committees to help upgrade our local roads and Georgetown County remained a “recipient” gas tax county under the bill. It’s estimated the legislation would provide Georgetown County with over $1 million a year in extra CTC funds. So this week I’ll be looking hard at the details of the compromise gas tax legislation to ensure District 108 is treated fairly.

On Thursday, I voted for a Senate bill that passed the House 95-2, which allows out of season shellfish harvesting in mariculture operations that involve the controlled cultivation of oysters and other shellfish. The bill should enhance the availability of fresh local seafood.

Also on Thursday, the legislature recognized and honored the teachers of the year from each school district. It was my privilege to meet Georgetown County School District teacher of the year Ashton Goretzke, who teaches language arts and social studies at Waccamaw Middle School. I greatly appreciate the hard work and dedication of Ashton and her fellow teachers.

This final week of the legislative session begins with the first meeting of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee on Tuesday morning. I was appointed to the committee by House Speaker Jay Lucas. This summer and fall we’ll be working to find legislative ways to help fight addiction and curb the hundreds of opioid-related overdose deaths in the state. I look forward to taking on this very important task.

I’m privileged to serve in the House. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt