Conway perimeter routes may threaten homes, cemetery

Cedric Blain-Spain is worried his family's grave will be in the way of the proposed Conway perimeter road that is designed to funnel traffic from S.C. 378 to U.S. 701. Standing in the cemetery across from Hemingway Chapel in the Sandridge community, he said all of the proposed routes from the South Carolina Department of Transportation will hurt the black community leveling homes and damaging the cemetery. "Tell me where is the value. Tell me where is the love," he said pointing to homes of Myrtle Beach hotel and restaurant workers. "We know this is a tourist area. But, then should the tourist mean more than the everyday citizen that has to make these beds, that have to drive these buses? Should the tourist mean more than somebody that's got to wash the dishes and cook the food in the restaurants for the tourists? Should they have to worry about getting out of their home?" Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Sarah Lee Faulk said no amount of money could make her want to move from her home of more than 50 years off of Cates Bay Highway in Conway.

“They ain’t got enough money to pay me,” Faulk said.

Of the five possible routes on the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s Conway perimeter road Phase II project, three of them would come right through Faulk’s family property.

The Ride III Sales Tax Project intends to put a four-lane highway with a median between U.S. 701 and S.C. 378 to help traffic flow.

“I don’t like it. I still don’t like it. I just don’t have words for it,” said Faulk, who worked for AVX for over 20 years.

Faulk’s family doesn’t believe the route is needed at all.

“To me, it’s stupid,” said Faulk’s grandson, Acie Faulk. “It makes no sense to me. People can use Hemingway Chapel or Dirty Branch, or Ninth (Avenue) to get here, why make a four-lane highway?”

Cedric Blain-Spain, who has family in the Sandridge community, attended a recent county council meeting with a large group of community members to voice their concerns for the routes, symbolically wearing red shirts.

“We wore red for the blood of our ancestors, and because we are bleeding as a community,” Blain-Spain said.

He is concerned not only for Faulk and the elders of the community, but for the historic preservation of the area.

Graves with a highway view

“This affects both the living and the dead,” Blain-Spain said.

Hannah Hemingway, Blain-Spain’s great-grandmother seven times removed, was born in 1829. She is buried at the edge of the Sandridge Community Cemetery (formerly the Hemingway Chapel Cemetery) at the junction of Cates Bay Highway and Hemingway Chapel Road.

One of the proposed routes would come only inches from her grave.

“How can you protect the cemetery with a raised highway? The runoff … even with retention ponds there is wear and tear of the road, and sand has a way of eroding. We fear this would be covered in water,” Blain-Spain said.

Hemingway Chapel AME Church used to be located in the center of the cemetery (instead of across the street) around 137 years ago, he said, and Hemingway’s son was instrumental in its building.

"SCDOT does take in to account all impacts ... as part of the design process before selecting a route," said Marla Watson with the SCDOT. "I am not sure if there is a required offset that a highway must be from a cemetery. From my experience we try our best not to encroach on cemeteries."

According to Horry County records, the cemetery has at least 362 gravesites, and in 2015 it was added to the Horry County Historic Property Register.

He said he’s seen the recognition other area cemeteries have received.

“They praise these other cemeteries but they are concerned about preserving some parts of town and not others,” he said.

How are some homes chosen over others?

Blain-Spain pointed across the street from the cemetery to low-income housing that is home to a number of senior citizens, who would also be affected by the perimeter road routes.

“They have nowhere else to go,” Blain-Spain said. “They just want to live out their days in peace.”

He said some of those residents worked and cleaned for Myrtle Beach hotels 30 to 60 years, and live on around $263 a month in social security.

“Where are they going to go?” Blain-Spain said. “Wonder why the homeless rate is up? If you’re not big dollar, they just want you to make their beds … clean their rooms and live in poverty.”

He pointed out the graves of Lonnie Alston and Sam Oliver, whom he said were the first homebuilders in the Sandridge community, and who built his childhood home.

Their final resting places would also be at risk with the road work.

He noted that the proposed perimeter road routes all curve around new Beverly Homes subdivisions but come straight through their community, which has existed much longer.

“How can the road curve around Newcastle and Woodland to avoid them?” Blain-Spain said. “They want to save a house that’s just been built, to take down a home that has been there for 70 years, that the man built with his own hands? Where is the value in that? Where is the love?”

He said that historic preservation officials may say their homes aren’t 100 or 200 years old, but Blain-Spain said the black community at that time could not afford nicer building materials to withstand time. They used what they could to provide a home for their families, be it clapboard or old wood from a razed barn.

Notification

“This is very heartwrenching,” Blain-Spain said.

Watson said that they notify homeowners whose properties are in the proposed routes in a number of ways, including public information meetings, letters, and personal visits.

Watson said advertisements for the first public meeting back in March went up three weeks prior in public locations like the community center and library, as well as along significant routes near the project.

Postcards were also sent out to the surrounding zip codes that might be affected, she said.

Faulk said she still has yet to receive any sort of notification informing her that her property would be in the right-of-way for the proposed routes. Her family said they heard about the meeting and made a phone call, and only then was it confirmed that her property could be affected, she said.

Her granddaughter Maleika Tyler, who grew up here but lives in Washington, D.C., said the information may be out there, the average person may not know where to look.

“They [the powers that be] don’t tell them until it’s too late to do anything about it,” Tyler said.

Blain-Spain said that he thinks the spotty notifications have to do with poor planning, and poor leadership.

Eminent domain

Just two houses down from Faulk is a construction site next to her family’s former home. Earlier this year, Dominion Energy (formerly SCE&G) used eminent domain to take the property to use for a gas pipeline to service Myrtle Beach.

While they aren’t allowed to put anything else on that property, Faulk is still expected to pay taxes on the land above the buried pipeline, Blain-Spain said. Otherwise, her property goes on the auction block.

He worries that the pipeline event, in addition to the possibility of losing their family’s homes to a highway, is part of a bigger problem making the family wary of promises that come from the government.

“They will run right through black people’s yards, but stop at the white people’s property lives,” Blain-Spain said of the pipeline. “It’s right next to their bedroom window, but you’d never see that on Lakeside Drive or Elm Street.”

He said the company had a deadline to get gas to Myrtle Beach, since the people who move here from up north want to use gas for heating and cooking, and the gas pressure drops in the wintertime.

“They are disregarding mothers and seniors, they have no value for the black community,” Blain-Spain said.

What’s next

SCDOT has a public meeting on the routes set for Aug. 8 at the Horry County Government Building at 1301 Second Ave. from 5-7 p.m.

SCDOT confirmed this meeting will be the final public gathering on the routes, and SCDOT official Marla Watson said while the public will have the opportunity to voice their opinions to the design team, the final chosen route will be revealed at the meeting. 

Blain-Spain and Sandridge community members plan to be at the SCDOT meeting to speak out against the routes through their historic community.

Faulk’s great-grandson Acie said he won’t give up.

“She raised me. I just had a kid and I love that she can be raised here too,” he said seated beside Faulk in their living room. “They knock this home down, I’ll be in it.”

Faulk said she’s trusting God with the outcome.

“I try to serve that man up there. He gives me peace about it. My mind is settled. It will all come around in the end. I’m living with it, and I put it in His hands,” Faulk said.

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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