HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Conservationists are protesting plans for building a hospital in the Carolina Forest area.

Conway Medical Center wants to build a 50 bed hospital off International Drive.

There was a community meeting last night, but it was purely for educational purposes and no decisions were made. There were no progress updates and no public input.

The public was, however, able to listen to officials on both ends speak about the impact of the hospital on wildfire mitigation effects.

“What we haven’t seen is a lot of pushback from residents, right. They know there’s a healthcare need,” said Brian Argo, CEO of Conway Medical Center. “I think this is really more about folks not wanting to valve an additional property, but at this point, the need for healthcare is strongly there in this community.”

While some residents support the plan, others have concerns.

“Primarily the public safety on Highway 90 where I live because of wildfires,” Amelia Wood said.

The proposed site is inside the gates that block traffic during prescribed burns at neighboring preserves. Under the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Reserve is one of South Carolina’s 76 heritage preserves that serve to mitigate the risk of wildfire, according to SCDNR officials.

“With the development of a hospital, that just adds one more constraint in limiting where we can send the smoke, where we can close the roads and how that’s going to impact our ability to keep the public safe and our staff safe,” said Lorianne Riggin, a SCDNR official.

Horry County council members are concerned though that if the hospital is not built, the alternative would be worse.

“I am fairly certain that if the hospital weren’t to be developed then that property would be zoned for residential use,” council member Dennis DiSabato said. “In other words, current zoning for residential uses would call for about 3,200 multifamily units, which for me would be catastrophic for the area from a density perspective.”

A traffic study compared the predicted daily traffic totals of what is allowed under current zoning and the proposed hospital zoning.

The allowed single family residential plus commercial units is expected to result in an average of over 10,000 daily trips. The allowed multifamily housing would produce an average of over 16,000 vehicles per day.

The proposed hospital would produce an average of slightly more than 4,260, which DiSabato said would be the best option for the county’s roads.

However, some folks think one option has been left out.

“While the three options on the table that were thought about were mostly from a public perspective for development, there is a fourth option that should be on the table which is for conservation,” Riggin said.

The county is currently waiting for the US Army Corps Engineers to give approval of the mitigation bank to then move forward to the third reading of this proposal.

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Claire Purnell is a multimedia journalist at News13. Claire is from Louisville, Kentucky. Claire joined the News13 team in January 2023 after graduating from the University of Colorado-Boulder in December 2022. Follow Claire on Twitter and read more of her work here.