Bill to allow Sea Pines dredging tax unexpectedly surfaces

tbarton@islandpacket.comMarch 8, 2012 

A vessel moored to a dock in the entrance to Harbour Town Yacht Basin rests in the mud during low tide on Thursday afternoon. Although the harbor is slowly filling up with silt, there is still no plan in place for dredging it.

JAY KARR, THE ISLAND PACKET

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Local legislators thought a bill permitting a special tax district on Sea Pines homeowners to pay for dredging creeks and marinas was dead -- until it got a second life this week in a Senate committee.

Its sponsor, Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, had agreed not to pursue the tax district -- opposed by many Sea Pines homeowners -- after the S.C. House passed it 89-0 last April.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, thought he had rung the death knell on the bill when he blocked it from coming to the Senate floor last year.

Then this week it re-emerged in the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Davis is a member. It passed, though Davis said he has stalled it -- for now.

Davis said the House bill was thought to be dead until Sen. Ray Cleary III, R-Murrells Inlet, requested a hearing before the Judiciary Committee to amend the bill.

Cleary added language to allow dredging to be paid for by counties through a local-option sales tax, subject to voter approval.

Davis said there is a dredging project in Georgetown County that Cleary wants that county to finance.

To his knowledge, no one from Beaufort County's legislative delegation or Hilton Head pushed for the bill to be heard, Davis said.

"H4033 was simply a convenient vehicle for Cleary to use in order to advance his desired amendment," he said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-8 for the amended bill, largely along party lines -- with Democrats in favor and Republicans against, with the exception of Cleary.

After the vote, Davis filed an objection, placing what he called a procedural block on the bill that prevents it from being debated or voted on the Senate floor.

However, Senate rules say Davis' objection merely delays the bill from being considered. It could still be put to a vote, according to Senate Rules Committee staff.

Davis said creating the tax district would be inappropriate, given opposition from Sea Pines homeowners and plantation covenants that provide a way for owners to assess themselves for community improvements without government involvement.

He also said he opposes creation of a new class of taxes without a referendum. The bill would allow local governments to tax property within designated districts without owner consent.

The Sea Pines property owners association and Community Services Associates boards, bowing to community outcry, voted in July to rescind support of the legislation. Both boards vowed to find a solution and conduct a referendum of all Sea Pines property owners once a dredging plan has formulated.

Davis and Patrick agree passage of the bill is premature until Sea Pines determines how best to dredge, what that will cost and how to pay for it.

Several waterways in Sea Pines are clogged, making it difficult for boats to get in or out at low tide. The problem has been discussed for years with little progress. Private groups have paid for dredging in the past, but say costs have increased to the point they are unaffordable.

Davis said inshore disposal is "a sound option that merits serious consideration" and "science, not politics, should determine if such is environmentally safe."

"We cannot allow Harbour Town to become a kayak basin," he said. "And I am confident that, as it did with the Heritage golf tournament, the community will once again rise to the occasion."

Representatives of the South Island Dredging Association, made up of boat slip owners and Sea Pines residents, met with state and federal regulators Jan. 11 in Charleston to discuss the association's efforts to dump dredge spoil into Calibogue Sound, association spokesman Jack Brinkley said.

Regulators have since reviewed engineering proposals developed on behalf of SIDA. Responses to various sediment testing procedures required for inshore disposal were expected the end of last month, Brinkley said.

Harbour Town marina is a 7-iron shot from the 18th green at Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage golf tournament April 9-15. The event's annual telecast delivers images around the globe of the candy-striped lighthouse and spectators aboard gleaming yachts.

Sea Pines and town officials worry that a muddy yacht basin could be a turn-off to the tournament's new sponsors.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

Related Content

  1. House bill widening and dredging waterways
  2. Regulators to discuss Sea Pines dredging in Charleston
  3. Sea Pines boards rescind support for dredging bill: July 26, 2011
  4. Sen. Davis: Sea Pines dredging bill dead in the water: July 19, 2011
  5. Bill would let town create tax district for Sea Pines to pay for dredging waterways: April 22, 2011
  6. Sea Pines dredging issue reaches 'critical stage': Feb. 19, 2011

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