Guest Editorial Highway 17

Published 2:38 am Monday, February 9, 2009

By Staff
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Marc Finlayson has been Executive Director of the Highway 17 Association since 2006. The goal of the organization continues to be the improvement of Highway 17 from Virginia to South Carolina, including the Washington Bypass project.
I read with great interest your story “Bridge to Nowhere?” on February 5. The Highway 17 Association strongly supports a safe, responsible and early completion of the Washington Bypass project. We further believe that by allowing Flatiron/United to finish its work across the Tar River through April such a completion can be reasonably attained.
The permit conditions imposed on the project call for any work in the Tar River to desist on February 15, not to resume until June 15. Ostensibly, this delay is to allow spawning fish to swim upstream without being distressed by motion or noise. However, the work Flatiron/United is doing on this project is so environmentally benign that we submit that very little harm would come to any fish that might be in the river.
The gantry construction system allows Flatiron/United to drive piles and pour concrete with very minimal equipment in the river at all. It is my understanding that only some 40 hours would be necessary to finish the pile driving over the course of the ten to 12 weeks required to cross the river. The rest of the work would take place high above the water, pouring the concrete caps atop the piles or pouring the concrete deck for the highway itself.
It certainly seems the impact to the fish would be minimal, but the potential impact to humans would be dramatic should the project be halted for four months at such a critical time in its progress.
Because the gantry system is so unique, there is minimal work for these crews to do until June. Flatiron/United would obviously prefer to keep its crews employed, continuing to support the local economy in and around Beaufort County. There is also a risk that Flatiron/United may find itself short of skilled labor when it tries to re-start the project in June if some of its workforce is compelled to move away during the layoff. Furthermore, if the four-month moratorium delays the project completion from autumn 2009 until autumn 2010, that means local drivers are deprived of a safer, faster transportation system for a year, and local merchants are deprived of the economic boost opening the highway will provide. The year delay also adds millions of tax-payer dollars to the cost of the project because of inflation pressures on steel, concrete and petroleum.
But really, waiving the moratorium can end up being a win-win-win for the highway, the economy and the environment. Permits issued since the one governing the Washington Bypass project call for fish moratoria to extend to the end of September because regulatory agencies now believe the summer period from mid June until October is more sensitive for the fish. If we allow Flatiron/United to work in February, March and April to get across the river it would preclude them working in the river beginning again in June.
The Highway 17 Association urges reconsideration of the environmental permit conditions which will lead to a common-sense solution. Allowing Flatiron/United to continue its work through the early weeks of the fish moratorium will impose negligible impact to the fish and provide tremendous benefit for our region and our people.