Broken pilings removed from Whale Branch River in Beaufort, rescuers confirm

astice@islandpacket.comJanuary 17, 2012 

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Broken pilings left in the Whale Branch River after a railroad trestle was removed have been cleared, and boats can pass, according to local rescue squad members.

Dick Jennings of the Beaufort Water Search & Rescue Squad said the pilings have been removed at the mud-level by crews dismantling the dormant Port Royal Railroad line for the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority.

Rescue group members expressed concerns recently because the pilings were submerged at high tide, creating a navigational hazard.

The removal of the pilings originally was scheduled for completion by mid-February but was hastened because of safety concerns, according to water authority spokesman Matthew Brady.

Another concern about the work also has been eliminated. After further review, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has determined the trestle removal does not require a permit, according to Dan Burger with the department's Ocean & Coastal Resource Management Office.

Last week, Burger had said the bridge removal required a DHEC permit and that the situation was being evaluated by agency staff. However, abandoned structures do not require state permits unless they affect a marsh, Burger later wrote in an email.

DHEC will inspect the site to verify all materials have been removed from state waters and tidelands, Burger wrote.

The removal of railroad tracks, ties and ballast began in August 2010 after the utility purchased the railroad to better protect its pipes that lie underneath.

The utility granted Beaufort County an easement to develop a trail along the corridor from Ribaut Road in Port Royal to the Whale Branch River. It also granted an 11.8-mile easement between the Whale Branch River and Yemassee to the Trust for Natural Wildlife Habitats to preserve as a natural wildlife corridor.

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