A key federal permit for the extension of S.C. 31 on the south end is expected to be issued as early as Friday after two years of delays, paving the way for work on the stalled project to finally start later this year.

The permit will allow for construction to start on extending S.C. 31 from its end at S.C. 544 to S.C. 707 and widening S.C. 707 to U.S. 17 Bypass near the Horry-Georgetown counties line.

“That’s good news if we can get it tomorrow,” Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said Thursday. “This is what we’ve been waiting for.”

Once the federal permit is received, officials can move forward with putting out bid requests for the work. Construction should start on the widening of S.C. 707 in October and on the S.C. 31 extension in December, said Mike Barbee with the S.C. Department of Transportation.

The project, which would be complete in late 2016, should help reduce congestion on the south end and will give drivers a straight route from the start of S.C. 31 near Little River to U.S. 17 near the Horry-Georgetown counties line.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received the last needed piece for the permit, a water quality report from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, on Thursday afternoon, Corps spokeswoman Sara Corbett said.

“Now that we have it, we will [issue the permit] as soon as possible,” she said.

State transportation leaders and Rep. Tom Rice said the permit will be issued Friday. Rice said he’s met with Corps officials to help move the project through the process.

“It is time to get the shovels in the ground, get people back to work and improve our local infrastructure,” Rice said in an email.

Construction on the S.C. 31 extension was initially scheduled to start in summer 2011. It was delayed as transportation officials took a closer look at environmental impacts and because of glitches in the permit application. The Corps wanted one permit application for the S.C. 31 extension and the S.C. 707 widening because the projects are so intertwined; officials had initially submitted separate permit applications for each.

The S.C. 31 extension will cost about $215 million and is paid for through the State Infrastructure Bank, while the S.C. 707 widening will cost between $85 million and $95 million and was part of Horry County’s RIDE program.

Delays in those projects have led to delays in other needed road improvements in Horry County, including the widening of Glenns Bay Road and construction of International Drive at Carolina Forest. The projects have to start in priority order.

“It’s been kind of holding up those projects,” Bourcier said.

The S.C. 31 extension and S.C. 707 widening are crucial for traffic on the overburdened south end, officials say. S.C. 707 is handling more traffic than the two-lane section south from S.C. 544 was designed to handle, Barbee said..

The south end has been one of the fastest growing areas in the county, with many subdivisions popping up along S.C. 707 and adding to the traffic congestion, he said. The improvements aim to alleviate that congestion and better connect the south strand.

Knowing south-end drivers need the improvements now has made the delays even more frustrating, Barbee said.

“It’s been a long process,” he said. “It’s been extremely frustrating to both us and the county... knowing the critical need of the project. It’s just frustrating to have to go through the process.”

By: Dawn Bryant

I, like many veterans, had been struggling with the Veterans Affairs system for years; I continually called 800 numbers, went to VA offices, only to be told nothing in regards to entitlement to VA benefits. When I finally did hear from the VA, I was turned down and told to appeal.

Frustrated and extremely stressed, I had enough. On Jan. 15, I called my congressman and I was instructed to go to his office here in Myrtle Beach. Without hesitation, Congressman Tom Rice’s staff went to work to help a veteran. Letters were written and phone calls were made. On April 29, I received my just due and I was awarded the disability compensation award I was entitled to.

I also made another request to his office. Over the last 40 years I have attempted to receive medals and awards I thought I had earned while serving in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. Congressman Rice's staff on my behalf wrote to the USMC. Just recently I received an envelope from the USMC containing numerous medals and ribbons. One has no idea what emotion that brings to a combat vet who has been diagnosed with Agent Orange and PTSD.

In the heart and eyes of this veteran, Congressman Tom Rice and his staff truly understand the sacrifices veterans make so the United States can remain a free nation.

By Richard A. DeLorge

The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.

The House of Representatives voted again to repeal President Obama’s health-care law Thursday afternoon, marking the 37th time that the GOP-led House has tried to undo all or part of the legislation.

The vote was 229 to 195, with two Democrats joining Republicans in voting for repeal. The Democrats were Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Jim Matheson (Utah). Previous repeal votes had attracted as many as five Democrats.

This vote does not put the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy. Thursday’s repeal bill will probably meet the same fate as five others that would have eliminated the entire health-care law: It will die in the Democrat-led Senate.

But for the GOP, the point was not to change the law. At least, not right away. Instead, the point was to refocus the House — and, hopefully, a swath of the American public — on a law that remains controversial three years after it was passed. GOP leaders also wanted to give newly elected Republicans a chance to blast the law from the House floor. They took it, with gusto.

“This may be the 37th time that the House has taken up the repeal of what is known as Obamacare. But this is my first time,” said Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.).“The constituents that sent me here want my vote recorded, to repeal this poorly crafted, job-killing law.”

At least a dozen other new Republicans followed him to the microphone. The newest of all was Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who had been sworn in just the day before. “It turns upside down this American tradition of not having the government force on the consumers . . . the purchase of a product,” Sanford said. He was referring to the bill’s “individual mandate,” which requires most Americans to purchase health insurance.

So there were new actors in Thursday’s drama, but few new lines. Democrats argued — again — that repealing the law would eliminate popular features, such as the ban on lifetime caps for insurance benefits and the provision that lets children remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

“Here we go again. This vote is more than just a sideshow. It’s an embarrassing spectacle that has consumed House Republicans for more than two years,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.). “Republicans . . . have their legislative heads in the sand and their feet in cement.”

Republicans also reiterated arguments that they had made in previous repeal debates. They said the law will allow government intrusion in private medical matters and that it will burden businesses with new costs and paperwork.

One new wrinkle in this debate: Republicans noted that the Internal Revenue Service would be charged with enforcing major portions of the new law. With that agency now embroiled in scandal, Republicans said that what had already been a bad idea now sounded worse.

“Members, this is your chance to weigh in on the IRS scandal,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.). “A vote to repeal is a vote to stop the IRS.”

By , Published: May 16

U.S. Coast Guard Station Georgetown hosted a ceremony on Thursday morning to dedicate the arrival of its new Response Boat Medium.

This 45-foot boat is designed to replace the 1970’s era 41-foot Utility Boat that is currently assigned to Coast Guard Station Georgetown, according to officials.

Congressman Tom Rice, the U.S. representative for South Carolina's 7th congressional district, visited Georgetown on Thursday and took part in the dedication.

Now a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rice also brought the chairman of that committee, Rep. Bill Shuster.

Both Rice and Shuster spoke during the dedication and took a ride on the boat before another meeting at Lands End Restaurant.

“Thank you so much for your service,” Rice said to the Coast Guard officers present. “You lay your life on the line for our safety.”

Shuster agreed, saying that what the Coast Guard does is vital to the security and safety of the United States.

“We appreciate you promoting safety and security,” Shuster said. “Since 9/11 you have had more missions and sometimes have had to make due with limited resources. We will go back to D.C. and see what we can do to help.”

Also in attendance were Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville, Georgetown City Fire Chief Joey Tanner and other local officials.

Scoville said the Coast Guard is very important in Georgetown County since there are more boats registered to people than vehicles.

“There is so much water related activity here and we are glad to have young men and women who rise up to help make our time on the water safer,” Scoville said.

This boat is the second of five boats that will be delivered to Coast Guard Sector Charleston over the next year, and assigned to four small boat stations throughout South Carolina and Georgia.

The 45-foot Response Boat Medium is one of the Coast Guard's newest boats and is equipped with state-of-the-art marine technology which makes the RB-M a high performer.

Its outfit includes an advanced electrical system, water jet propulsion, and integrated electronics that allow greater control from the pilot house, officials said.

Its increased capability will enable the Coast Guard to respond to missions more effectively within the coastal South Carolina and Georgia region.

By Clayton Stairs

 — Business and political leaders from the 7th District made the most of a rare opportunity Thursday to speak directly to the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

In little more than an hour at a meeting at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, Interstate 73 was mentioned at least two dozen times meaning that Congressman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., would be hard pressed to forget it when he gets back to his chairman’s seat in Washington.

Not that there was much chance even before the meeting as 7th District Congressman Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, gave Shuster an I-73 sticker for his lapel, which Shuster joked that he should have worn on his forehead.

The $2 billion needed to build South Carolina’s part of the interstate is just one of two significant hurdles the highway faces, Shuster said in a pre-meeting interview. The other is how the funding would get into the highway transportation bill. Shuster said that members of Congress can no longer earmark funds, but that it still happens, just by the executive branch of the government.

Congress needs to restore its earmark authority, Shuster said. Once that’s done, Rice said he could find the money to fund the construction. If that fails, Rice said, Congress could designate it as a toll road to provide the funds for construction.

“I don’t want to do it as a toll road,” Rice said. “But if that’s the only way to do it, I’ll go that way.”

Rice, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus all told Shuster at the meeting that the road is critical not only as a way to facilitate the travel of the majority of the county’s 14 million tourists, but as an economic development tool and a route for hurricane evacuations.

“It’s hard to believe we’re the third largest tourist destination in the U.S. and we still have no way to get here other than back roads,” Rhodes said.

Shuster remarked how persistent Rice, who is a member of his committee, has been on the issue, to which Lazarus said, “I can tell you if you think Tom is persistent, wait ‘til you see the rest of us.”

Rice said that the highway’s construction would create 7,000 jobs in some of the neediest areas of South Carolina, and they would be followed by 72,000 new jobs that would come after it is built. In terms of a cost-benefit ratio, an increasingly important measure in the spending of federal funds, Rice said the new interstate would pay for itself in just over four years.

The short meeting was immediately followed by a tour of the highway’s route, areas of Grand Strand beach renourishment and a look at the new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport. While the interstate dominated the conversation, the importance of dredging the Georgetown port, railroads and water and sewer infrastructure in Florence also got some time during the sit-down.

Rice and Shuster stopped in Georgetown earlier in the day to talk specifically about the port and view a newly-commissioned Coast Guard vessel.

Tim Tilley, president of the Georgetown Port Task Force, said at the Myrtle Beach meeting that highways, railroads and ports work together to benefit the region.

“It’s all a symbiotic relationship,” he said.

Read more here: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2013/05/02/3467617/myrtle-beach-area-officials-make.html#storylink=cpy