Sea Pines dredging contractor hired; South Beach owners agree to participate

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 10, 2013 

STAFF

A Texas dredging contractor often relied upon by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been hired to unclog waterways in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

South Island Dredging Association president Jack Brinkley said the group of boat-slip owners and Sea Pines residents hired Orion Marine Construction Inc. to clear sediment from Harbour Town Yacht Basin, Gull Point and South Beach marinas, and Braddock Cove and Baynard Cove creeks.

The company has been approved to perform the work by the Corps of Engineers' Charleston District and has cleared shipping channels and other waterways for corps' districts in Jacksonville, Fla.; Norfolk, Va.; and Galveston, Texas.

"They performed excellently and never had a problem with them," said Thomas Friberg, operations chief with the corps' Norfolk District.

The company recently removed about 3 million cubic yards from the James River from Norfolk to Richmond to maintain navigation, using both open-water and upland disposal, Friberg said.

"We had inspectors out there almost every day and performed water-quality testing, and (Orion) was always in compliance," he said.

State and federal regulators halted a 2003 effort to deepen Sea Pines waterways after a contractor was accused of improperly dumping dredge spoil into Calibogue Sound, instead of the approved offshore site. The project manager was acquitted of federal charges, and the dredging association -- facing fines of nearly $500,000 -- settled a state lawsuit, paying $50,000 but admitting no wrongdoing.

"I would be surprised if they would ever do anything like that or allow it to happen," Friberg said of Orion. "They know what they're doing."

Attempts Thursday and Friday to reach a company representative were unsuccessful.

A separate division of the company was sued in July in Galveston County District Court by companies that harvest oysters. The companies, which filed state and federal lawsuits, say oyster beds were damaged by Orion and others involved in building a 13.75-mile steel transmission pipeline across Galveston Bay.

"(These) activities resulted in excessive siltation, damage to oysters and other harmful effects to the water and water bottoms," according to the federal complaint.

The suit seeks $200,000 to $1 million in damages, according to court records. A trial is set for September 2014.

The South Island Dredging Association plans to pump nearly 300,000 cubic yards of sediment to a 100-acre site at the mouth of Calibogue Sound, about a mile from the island's toe and 1.5 miles from Daufuskie Island. The sound's strong currents should flush the sediment out to sea, according to corps officials.

It's the first private dredging project in the state allowed to dump dredge spoil in inshore waters, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"This is an outstanding company with a wonderful pedigree," said Brinkley, dredging association president.

Dredging is expected to begin in November, he said.

The project will be privately funded by boat-slip owners, Sea Pines Resort, Gull Point and South Beach homeowners. South Beach owners agreed to participate in the dredging in a referendum Sept. 28 that called for a one-time assessment to pay their portion of the work. About 85 percent of 460 South Beach owners approved, according to South Beach owners association president and Town Councilman George Williams Jr.

Homeowners abutting Braddock Cove Creek would pay $4,700. Those farther away would pay $1,100, according to Williams.

He said the owners association is arranging financing for those who require it. Payments are due at the end of the month, he said.

"No one goes in or out of there at least two hours on either side of the tide. It's high and dry," said Williams, who moved his boat from South Beach Marina to his brother's dock on Calibogue Cay because of silting. "I'm excited about getting it done."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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