Dredging project should proceed, but with caution

info@islandpacket.comDecember 3, 2013 

It's good to see the long-discussed dredging project finally getting underway in Sea Pines. Finally, a decade's worth of sediment will be pumped from the Harbour Town Yacht Basin as well as Gull Point and South Beach marinas and Braddock Cove and Baynard Cove creeks.

But we hope the private group funding the work -- a group of boat-slips owners and Sea Pines residents along with Sea Pines Resort and Gull Point and South Beach marinas -- will be vigilant in ensuring the work is done properly and that the environment is protected. Some previous dredging work has not gone smoothly.

The Town of Hilton Head Island has a stake in the project too, ensuring sediment moves seaward as regulators say it will and doesn't accumulate on island beaches or in marshes and creeks or the nearby Cooper and May rivers. And the town should keep careful watch too that the project doesn't negatively impact Barrett Shoals, the site where it gathers sand for beach renourishment.

The state has reason to watch closely too, as the project will set a new precedent in dredging South Carolina waterways.

For now, everyone is excited to see equipment on site and work about to begin to unclog waterways too shallow for many boats to navigate during low tide.

Large yachts, once the backdrop for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, can no longer dock in the yacht basin. It seems like a little thing, but the loss of the big boats makes it difficult to properly market the annual golf event and the island itself, tournament officials say. The yacht basin is a defining feature for the tournament, setting it apart from other PGA Tour events.

As sediment has piled up, visitors, and even tournament sponsors, including Boeing, have halted their use of the yacht basin. (Boeing scrapped its plans in 2012 to entertain guests on its company yacht because the basin couldn't accommodate the boat.)

Additionally, commercial sightseeing businesses, charter operators and others have taken a financial hit as sediment accumulated and limited the water's navigability.

It's time for the work to get underway, and we have high hopes for the project as businesses plan to ramp up once the work is completed in late March and big yachts cruise in for the Heritage in April.

But all involved should keep in mind the 2003 debacle, when state and federal regulators stopped work to deepen the waterways after a contractor was accused of dumping dredge spoil into Calibogue Sound instead of the approved offshore site. Ultimately, the project manager was acquitted of federal charges. And the dredging association settled a state lawsuit, paying $50,000 but admitting no wrongdoing.

Regulators and environmental groups had concerns last winter when this new dredging project was proposed.

And for good reason. The project is a first in state history, marking the first time a private dredging project will involve dumping dredge spoil in inshore waters. Nearly 300,000 cubic yards of sediment will be pumped 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.

Because of the type of sediment that will be dumped there and the sound's strong currents, the silt will be flushed out to sea, according to regulators.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, it's likely that other private groups will soon get the go-ahead to dump their dredge spoil in inshore waters as well, setting a precedent for South Carolina.

There's a lot at stake with the project, and the private group funding the work, the town and the state should stay on top of its progress.

State regulators will be on hand. An inspector must be present during all dredging and dumping, and daily reports are to be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Conditions including water quality and impact on aquatic life will be measured.

Let's hope these precautions will ensure the project is done well, and the waterways can be enjoyed for years to come.

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