State, developers concerned about new EPA rule -- WILMINGTON, NC -- Local developers are holding their breath as courts examine a controversial federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule aimed at cleaning up the nation's drinking water. The Clean Water Rule, which went into effect Aug. 28, aims to clarify Environmental Protection Agency authority over certain bodies of water. In addition to navigable waterways, the rule states that the EPA has jurisdiction over streams, ditches, wetlands and other bodies of water that connect to those waterways or are within certain distances. An appeals court decision stayed the rule Oct. 9 after several states sued to stop its implementation.

The Clean Water Rule, which went into effect Aug. 28 but was stayed by a court decision Oct. 9, clarifies what bodies of water are under EPA jurisdiction. Millions of acres of wetlands and 60 percent of the nation's streams had been in regulatory limbo for the last decade -- the rule reinforces federal authority over these areas that feed drinking water systems for nearly a third of the nation. But the rule could mean more permitting and paperwork is required when building near these bodies of water. At a presentation Wednesday in Wilmington, developers from Southeastern North Carolina learned about how the stalled rule could impact them; representatives from Wilmington and Jacksonville city governments and Rep. David Rouzer's office also attended.

Wednesday's event was hosted by the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Business Alliance for a Sound Economy. Among the presenters was David Syster of Southern Environmental Group Inc., a Wilmington-based consulting group. Syster explained that the rule was proposed to reduce red tape by clarifying the EPA's authority. But he said it may have the opposite effect in low-lying areas: streams and wetlands within 4,000 feet of the tide line, within 100 feet of the high water mark of navigable waters and within 1,500 feet of that mark in the 100-year floodplain are now under EPA jurisdiction.

Myrtle Beach to talk Performing Arts Center options at budget retreat

Rendering of a performing arts center that would have been connected to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. City Council will consider constructing a free-standing center with an amphitheater during its budget retreat next week. -- Myrtle Beach will consider a new idea next week for construction of a performing arts center after progress on the project slowed as city officials worked toward improving safety during Memorial Day weekend. The new proposal would combine the indoor performing arts center with an amphitheater. Project architect Steve Usry of Usry, Wolfe, Peterson, Doyle said the city has discussed the idea of having an amphitheater for years so he and convention center director Paul Edwards looked into the possibility of tying that desire with the performing arts center. Usry said his recommendation is that the indoor performing arts center would have no more than 700 seats and a 2,600-square-foot stage. The back of that stage would have some type of divider that would open to a 6,000 to 8,000 seat amphitheater.

“It would be the same stage, same rigging, same light systems,” he said. “It marries up what Myrtle Beach is about from a visitor standpoint but doesn’t take away from what the local [arts community] has been working for.” City Manager John Pedersen said the city will present the option to council members during the retreat in Pinopolis, being held Sunday through Tuesday.The city has been pursing the option of constructing a 650-seat performing arts center that would connect with the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. Almost 54 percent of city residents who voted on a November 2013 referendum approved the purchase of $10 million in bonds to build the center. The referendum passed 1,915 to 1,641.

Pedersen said council also will consider a plan next week that includes constructing a free-standing building near the Myrtle Beach Sports Center with an amphitheater component. “We have another concept that is still consistent with the referendum,” he said. “We’re going to talk to council and see if they’d be open to this concept.” Myrtle Beach approved a resolution 4-3 last June that gives supporters of the performing arts center the ability to update architectural plans for the facility that were completed in 2010.Penny Boling, who is on the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center board, said she thinks combining the facility with the amphitheater will delay the project another year – with construction possibly beginning toward the end of next year.Usry said the performing arts center still would cost about $10 million, but there would be more money needed to construct the amphitheater. City Council will talk about the funding for it next week.

“The combination would cost more, but not as much as two separate operations,” he said.Councilmen Wayne Gray, Mike Lowder and Philip Render voted against the resolution last year, which expressed the city’s intent to repay itself the $200,000 it is expected to cost to update the plans through the $10 million in bonds that would be used to pay for construction of the center. That $200,000 has not yet been spent, Pedersen said. Gray said Tuesday that law enforcement expenses during May and the rest of the year took priority over moving forward with the arts center, which is why he voted against the resolution last year.Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard last year during Memorial Day weekend. Myrtle Beach is spending millions of dollars in equipment and assisting personnel to try to ensure a safe weekend this year.

“I think there were matters in front of us then that are still in front of us now that are expensive,” Gray said. “Until there’s some settling of those issues, you just have to evaluate the cost of those [other] projects and the merit they have to the community. ... My position hasn’t changed.” He said he appreciates the “out-of-the-box thinking” of combining the performing arts center with an amphitheater. “The expansion of the whole convention center area – which would be driving economic activity to Myrtle Beach – is a good thing,” he said. “The amphitheater is something I’m more open to. ... It gives the community greater options for economic vitality. From that perspective, I’m more encouraged.” For more than 15 years, arts supporters have tried to establish a performance venue in Myrtle Beach. After being unable to raise about $2.5 million to partially fund building the center with help from the city, board members asked City Council in 2012 to completely pay for construction. “I feel like its Groundhog Day again,” Boling said. “But I still have very strong faith that the city will move forward with it.”

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