COASTAL OBSERVER: DHEC rejects Hewitt’s call to delay new lines

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

As the clock ticks down on the comment period for new lines that will expand state jurisdiction along portions of the Waccamaw Neck’s beachfront, state Rep. Lee Hewitt’s phone continues to ring.

“DHEC’s been calling me every day,” he said.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control announced revised jurisdictional lines on Oct. 6. The deadline for public comment is Nov. 6. A public hearing on the lines is scheduled for Wednesday in Myrtle Beach. By law, the new lines must take effect by Dec. 31. It’s all too fast, officials and property owners say.

“My biggest problem is they’re doing this with no notice,” Hewitt said.

He and state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, last week asked the leaders of the House and Senate to delay implementation of the lines until after the General Assembly reconvenes in January. “Speaker Lucas is with me on this,” Hewitt said, referring to Rep. Jay Lucas.

…Hewitt said he was told Wednesday by DHEC officials that they won’t delay the process.

…Hewitt plans to press the legislature and the governor’s office to delay implementation.

…Hewitt would like the review process extended to a year. [Pawleys Island Mayor]
Otis agreed that would be sufficient time for property owners to understand the process and get the data if they want to challenge the lines.

Right now, Hewitt said, “people don’t even know enough to ask questions at the public hearings.”

Click here for the full article.


GAB NEWS video: Rep. Hewitt presents Mayor Bill Otis with S.C. House resolution recognizing and honoring his service

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GAB NEWS – “It has been 20 years since Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis was elected to that office.

He has guided the island town through many changes during the two decades. But many say his biggest accomplishment has been keeping changes from actually happening. Keeping the town the nice, quiet, nearly non-commercial place it has always been.

Now, Otis is retiring from the position. He will be replaced by Jimmy Braswell or Douglas Hooks, whichever wins the Nov. 7 election.

On Monday evening, Otis — the town’s longest-serving mayor — was honored with plaques containing resolutions passed by the S.C. House of Representatives and Georgetown County Council in his honor.”

Click here for the article.


Update from Rep. Hewitt

A lot has happened since in the last month.

One of the biggest state issues is the failed V.C. Summer nuclear reactor project involving SCANA and Santee-Cooper. In addition to supporting the protection of ratepayers in this spending disaster, I support the House leadership in asking for a S.C. Law Enforcement Division investigation of SCANA, of which SLED has agreed to undertake. Click here for the letter asking for the investigation.

In April, before the reactor project was abandoned, my campaign received a contribution from a SCANA PAC. This week I returned the contribution. I think it’s the right thing to do. 

On September 13th, the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee met in Conway for our third public hearing about the opioid addiction epidemic. We heard compelling testimony from physicians, law enforcement officials and recovering addicts. We also heard heart-wrenching testimony from Lorraine Ryan and Noreen Beck, who lost sons to overdoses. We’ve got to find solutions for this epidemic as soon as possible.

This month I was privileged to tour the International Paper mill in Georgetown with the county legislative delegation. It’s an impressive operation employing about 600 workers that’s economically very important to both the county and city. I learned a lot from the tour.

Last week, as chairman of the Murrells Inlet July 4th Boat Parade, I was pleased to present the Belin Memorial United Methodist Church Boy Scout Troop with a check for $21,500 from the proceeds of T-shirt sales from the 2017 boat parade. This makes nearly $300,000 the boat parade committee has raised for the Boy Scouts since the inception of the parade 34 years ago. The committee is proud to support Troop 396 and thank them for making a difference in our community.

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

Rep. Lee Hewitt


Legislative update

I hope you’re doing well.

Recently Whitney and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. I’m so blessed to have Whitney as my wife. She’s been so patient with the considerable amount of time I’ve spent in my duties as a member of the House of Representatives.

I wanted to give you an update about my efforts since my last email.

Last month, I sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in opposition to oil and gas drilling off South Carolina. All of the municipalities and counties in my district have gone on record opposing drilling.

We cannot afford to risk harming our economy and environment by effectively playing Russian roulette with oil rigs off our coast. Sooner or later our coast will catch a bullet in the form of a major oil spill disaster. Click here for my letter.

I’m also one of 32 members of the General Assembly that signed a joint letter to BOEM opposing offshore drilling. The signers are a bipartisan group of 15 Republicans and 17 Democrats.

On Tuesday, I was in Columbia for the first meeting of the House Offshore Drilling Ad Hoc Committee. Our committee is tasked with studying offshore drilling and making recommendations about whether to support drilling or not. I expressed my concerns about the potential devastating impacts of oil spills on our coastal economy. Click here for a video clip of my comments and here for media coverage.

I’m glad to be a member of the newly formed S.C. Energy Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators who will work to ensure our homes and businesses have access to affordable energy options and focus on correcting institutional deficiencies that led to the V.C. Summer nuclear project spending disaster.

On August 9th, I sent a letter to the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study calling for a higher priority in their regional transportation plan for the Southern Evacuation Lifeline road project and Georgetown Bypass so we can reduce traffic congestion and expedite hurricane evacuations, particularly on the Waccamaw Neck.

Concerns about transportation, particularly growing traffic congestion and hurricane evacuation needs, are among the top issues I hear about from constituents. Click here for the letter and here for media coverage.

Last week, I was in N. Charleston as a member of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee for our second public hearing about the opioid addiction epidemic. Among other testimony, we heard heart-wrenching testimony from Kathleen Orr about the very recent tragic death of her 23-year old daughter to an opioid overdose. I’m hopeful our committee can come up with legislative solutions that can help stop this epidemic.

It’s an honor and privilege to represent District 108! Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Lee Hewitt


Rep. Hewitt's comments on the potential harm of offshore oil drilling to the coastal economy

A video clip of Rep. Lee Hewitt’s comments about the potential devastating impacts of oil spills on the coastal economy at the House Offshore Drilling Ad Hoc Committee meeting on August 22nd.


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