The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League on Thursday asked Gov. Nikki Haley to prevent the state Department of Transportation from cutting down the trees in the Interstate 26 median from Summerville to Interstate 95.
The $5 million DOT project aims to reduce fatalities and severe injury crashes. It is part of a plan to widen the interstate to three lanes in each direction. Cable guardrail will be installed in the middle of the median after the trees are removed.
In a letter dated Thursday, a law firm representing the league says, “Please require SCDOT to consider all feasible and reasonable alternatives in their project planning process before they implement this costly and unjustified plan.”
Highway Commissioner Jim Rozier of Moncks Corner said he supported leaving the wetlands and hardwoods in the median and removing pines. The interstate passes over Four Holes Swamp, he said.
“There are a lot of wetlands,” Rozier said.
It is in the best interest of the state and DOT to demonstrate that safer conditions on I-26 require the project to take out the trees on 30 miles of interstate, the letter states.
“SCDOT has so far failed to do this,” says the letter from Leath, Bouch & Seekings LLP.
Clearing every tree from the median and installing a cable down the center of the median will cause the greatest possible environmental and aestheic impact to the project area, the letter states.
“SCDOT has failed to show that any other reasonable alternatives that may less costly and/or less impactful have been seriously considered,” the letter states.
The DOT is in the process of preparing a contract for the I-26 project, which will require an environmental permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Trees in the median will be removed for nearly 30 miles of the interstate. The work, which could begin in the fall, will take about a year to complete, officials said.