Sea Pines officials apparently complicated an already complex situation with their handling of a resolution about dredging in Sea Pines waterways.
Several hundred Sea Pines property owners showed up at a meeting last Monday with questions about a resolution passed by the boards of Community Services Associates and the Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners. The resolution, which asks for the Town of Hilton Head Island's help in establishing a special tax district to pay for dredging, was passed in late May, but objecting owners said they learned about it in June.
The boards have learned how strongly some owners want input on a project that officials say could cost anywhere from $7 million to $15 million. The boards' two chairmen said they would discuss withdrawing the joint resolution for now. That's probably a good idea, given the reaction so far. Improved and more frequent communication could help all the way around.
We reported in April on legislation that would add dredging waterways as a public project that could be paid for through a municipal improvement district. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Andy Patrick, passed quickly in the House, but stalled in the Senate. The law doesn't require approval from affected property owners, but Patrick, Sea Pines officials and town officials say there would be a vote before they would move forward with the idea. Patrick says he will work with state Sen. Tom Davis to get a vote requirement into the bill when it's taken up in the next legislative session, and he means for it to apply to all property owners, not just resident homeowners.
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Everyone who would be affected should have the opportunity to weigh in. We said in April that such a tax district could provide a viable way to pay for dredging and could provide an appropriate vehicle for town involvement in a dredging project. The special tax would be limited to Sea Pines, and officials said it would be structured so that those who benefit most from the dredging would pay the most.
We also said it was important to find a way for everyone, not just resident homeowners, to vote on the idea. Historically, the costs to dredge Harbour Town Marina, South Beach Marina and Baynard Cove and Braddock Creek have been borne by the private interests who benefit directly. The tax district would be a radical change.
But it's not just Sea Pines property owners who should pay attention to what's happening with dredging in the south-island community. The resolution also puts forward the idea of "open water" disposal of the muck dredged from the community's marinas and waterways. That most likely means dumping spoil in Calibogue Sound, an idea that met with much resistance from state and federal wildlife and environmental officials, as well as area residents, when it was proposed a decade ago.
The driving force for dumping in Calibogue Sound is money. According to a summary of the July 11 meeting posted on the community's website, Cary Kelley, executive director of Community Services Associates, told owners that open water disposal costs $10 to $12 a cubic yard versus $24 to $25 a cubic yard for other methods. About 305,000 cubic yards need to be dredged. Harbour Town Yacht Basin has about 70,000 cubic yards to get rid of.
The resolution cites state regulations that call for upland disposal as the preferred method. That's the solution being explored for a separate Harbour Town project. The estimated cost is $1.5 million.
Kelley noted that a 2003 dredging project, halted by state and federal regulators, resulted in about 80 percent of the dredge spoil ending up in Calibogue Sound. He asks, where is the harm?
We're unaware of any specific scientific effort to measure the impact of that dumping.
We would note issues raised in 2008 by federal wildlife officials when a request was made to dump just 8,000 cubic yards of spoil into the Broad River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would create a 5-foot layer of silt over 10 acres. The silt would have a direct and indirect impact on wildlife, smothering creatures on the floor of the river. Suspended silt in the water could impair the respiration of fish and other organisms, suffocating them or killing them through stress.
Kelly urged property owners to talk to their legislators about open water disposal.
Anyone who has concerns about open water disposal should talk to those same legislators.
There are costs associated with dredging, and we should account for of all of them.