A group seeking to dredge Sea Pines waterways, including the Harbour Town Yacht Basin, hopes an endorsement from Hilton Head Island Town Council will help win popular support and make it easier to get the permit for the job.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support the South Island Dredging Association as it seeks permission to dredge and pump 300,000 cubic yards of silt, clay and sand into open water near the mouth of Calibogue Sound.
The plan is the "only practical and feasible alternative" to maintain navigation of Sea Pines creeks and marinas, the council's resolution states. Council members have said the waterways provide valuable recreation and tourism revenue to the island's economy.Harbour Town Yacht Basin is only 4 1/2 to 5feet deep at an average low tide, making it too shallow for large yachts and some commercial sightseeing and charter vessels. At nearby South Beach Marina, smaller pontoon and motor boats sit in mud at low tide.
Island taxpayers will not pay for the dredging. SIDA president Jack Brinkley said the association will foot the bill, the cost of which is uncertain, largely because of fluctuating fuel prices.
Environmental groups and the public can weigh in on the permit request through Oct. 26 and ask for a public hearing.
If a joint state and federal permit is approved, dredging would begin in November 2013 and be finished by April 2014, according to Brinkley. Work would start with Harbour Town to avoid disrupting the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, the island's annual PGA Tour event.
Council members say the dredge spoil -- the muck that is pulled from the bottom during dredging operations -- is unlikely to harm marine life or habitat. They cited nearly 500 pages of studies by Charleston-based GEL Engineering, which was hired by SIDA.
"I'm extremely confident in the research," said Councilwoman Kim Likins, who sits on a town committee that reviewed SIDA's application for a state and federal permit.
GEL principal Tom Hutto said the dump site is desolate, with "low biological diversity," and away from sensitive habitat. Inshore disposal is routinely used in other parts of the U.S., according to Hutto, and has been done in recent years in South Carolina in DeWee's Inlet and on the North Edisto River.
GEL models indicate tidal currents will sweep much of the sediment out to sea, preventing it from accumulating on island beaches or in marshes, creeks or the nearby Cooper and May rivers. About 80 percent of what's dumped would be swept away from the sound's bottom within two days and the rest within two weeks, Hutto said.
Some town officials, however, are skeptical of GEL's modeling, which has not been verified by regulators.
The spoil would be dumped on about 56 acres of sandy bottom near Barrett Shoals, where the town gets sand for beach renourishment.
"What they're proposing to dump is not beach-compatible," town public projects and facilities director Scott Liggett said. "If the sediment doesn't dissipate as they predict ... we could be forced to find an alternate source" of sand for beach renourishment.
SIDA's plan calls for an on-site inspector to monitor operations and file daily reports with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- which Brinkley says may be made available to the public -- to ensure requirements are met. Water-quality testing and habitat surveys also will be conducted before, during and after dredging, according to SIDA.
"We need a sustainable solution to dredging and the only way to do that is not to go through this agony again," Brinkley said.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.