Sierra Club slams I-73, starts war of emails

Wednesday, the South Carolina Sierra Club sent out a mass email to all its members calling I-73 an "interchange to nowhere" and a "political boondoggle".

Sierra Club, an environmentalist group, urged its members to speak out against the interstate at a public forum this Friday.

The North Eastern Strategic Alliance (NESA) is holding the forum to gain public input on the future interstate that would connect Michigan and Myrtle Beach. NESA and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce are in favor of building the interstate.

In its email, Sierra Club says the interstate could bankrupt the state because South Carolina Department of Transportation is broke.

The group said even with the DOT's financial woes, Chair Danny Isaac proposed a $344 million bond issue with $105 million going to I-73, which the Sierra Club says would further SCDOT's service debt by $30 million.

But the money SCDOT plans to use for I-73 comes out of a different fund than that used for everyday expenses.

"Today's dollars that SCDOT has is collected through federal funding and the state gas tax," says Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Nora Hembree. "The funding for I-73 would come from bonds that are being sold and would be paid back over a period of time."

Sierra Club called NESA "an economic development engine that supports an interstate that has no funding sources" and said the interstate would cost $2.4 billion which is twice the SCDOT's budget.

The chamber says the Sierra Club is trying to hijack the public forum that they planned to use to provide NESA with the potential benefits of I-73.

"It's a common tactic frequently used by environmental activists to slow economic progress and development through fear, manipulation and misinformation," said Hembree in a press statement.

The National I-73/74/75 Corridor Association called the Sierra Club's information about SCDOT inaccurate and said for the Sierra Club should show documentation and validation of their claims.

"A connection to the U.S. Interstate system will cost nowhere near what they suggest," said the association in their response email, "and the comical suggestion of a "Grand Strand Expressway" to be built for a mere $130 million is equally misleading."

The Chamber calls the remarks by Sierra Club "sad and disheartening". "Chris Chmura, leading economist with Richmond, VA-based Chmura Economics and Analytics unveiled a detailed analysis earlier this year both providing and explaining the potential benefits of Interstate 73, including the creation of 29,000 total jobs and an annual $1.9 billion economic impact," said Hembree. Chmura is expected to attend the public forum to present his results to NESA.

The forum is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday in FMU's Lee Nursing Building Auditorium.