State regulators have approved a developer's plan to dig a freshwater lake in a proposed residential community six miles southeast of Hardeeville, despite objections from nearby homeowners and environmental advocates.
To create the 89-acre lake, Reed Development of Bluffton had to apply for a mining permit from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The agency approved the application Nov. 28. The 1,100-acre site for the development is one mile east of U.S. 17 in Jasper County.
Twelve homeowners signed a petition protesting the "mine," and DHEC held a public hearing in September to address concerns from Hardeeville's Oakwood subdivision, near the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.
The Coastal Conservation League also was concerned that 420 million gallons of groundwater could flow into the sand pits, dropping the water table and draining nearby wetlands.
DHEC determined that the digging would cause little harm to the environment.
Developer John Reed said in August he hoped to convert the land he refers to as the "Savannah Tract" into a waterside community built around public squares, like its namesake city.
The plan is to dig three sand pits -- each 25 to 30 feet deep -- to create the lake. The digging would cause minimal noise, dust and traffic for the Oakwood subdivision, Reed has said, and no chemicals would be used to mine the sand.
Workers will be required to contain and dispose any fuel or lubricant leaks and prevent the contamination of ground and surface water.
Some wildlife habitat will be lost, but no threatened or endangered species will be affected, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The work will require removing 56 million cubic feet of sand from below the water table, which is eight feet underground, according to Reed Armstrong of the Coastal Conservation League.
Armstrong argues that would drastically lower the water table and could "severely alter" nearby wetlands, including those within the wildlife refuge. He also worries stormwater and other runoff from the pits could harm wetlands reserved for preservation or restoration.
DHEC dismisses concerns that the project would lower the water table and dry up nearby wells, the nearest of which is 500 feet from the site. Residential wells off Oakwood Drive draw from a deeper aquifer than the shallower water table that workers will dig into, DHEC officials said. A layer of clay that separates the two aquifers makes it unlikely the lower one would be degraded if water is drawn from the shallower one, the report adds.
Nearby homeowners, businesses and others who might be affected have until Thursday to appeal the decision to the DHEC board, but none had been filed as of Monday afternoon, according to the agency's public information director Jim Beasley.
Though disappointed, Armstrong said the Coastal Conservation League will not appeal.
"We've got to pick and choose our battles," he said Monday.
Attempts Monday afternoon to reach Reed were unsuccessful.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.