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S. Carolina Environmental Officials Deny Permit for Lake Marion Bridge

Sun January 28, 2007 - Southeast Edition
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) State environmental officials have refused to issue a water quality permit from a new bridge over Lake Marion.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) cannot begin construction on the bridge, championed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, until it gets the permit.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control denied the permit because the DOT didn’t provide enough information on the project, agency Spokesman Thom Berry said.

The DOT can appeal the ruling, but acting agency Director Tony Chapman has not decided what he will do, agency Spokesman Pete Poore said.

The 3-mi. (4.8 km) bridge would connect the tiny communities of Lone Star and Rimini in a sparsely populated area 45 mi. southeast of Columbia.

The $150 million project would cross an area called Sparkleberry Swamp, which environmentalists said is one of the few places in South Carolina free of noise from cars and airplanes. They have fought the bridge aggressively, sending more than 300 letters opposing the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must decide whether to issue a wetlands permit for the bridge if the DOT can convince DHEC officials to change their minds.

One of its biggest supporters, Clyburn has said the bridge would bring development to one of South Carolina’s poorest regions.

He downplayed DHEC’s decision.

’This is part of the process every road and bridge project must undergo before it receives approval,” said Clyburn, D-S.C. “We must wait for it to play out in all of these government jurisdictions before any declaration can be made on the connector’s future.”

DHEC denied the permit because the DOT could not certify that water quality would be protected and also didn’t provide a plan to offset effects the bridge and approach roads would have on approximately 15 acres (6 ha) of wetlands, Berry said.

Attorneys of the Southern Environmental Law Center said the permit denial is a major victory for conservation.

“We hope the DOT will be wise enough to accept this decision,” center Attorney David Farren said. “This is a huge blow for this project.”

The DOT has been under increasing scrutiny over the past several months as lawmakers debate whether to restructure the agency.

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