Hilton Head Island Town Council's resolution supporting the proposed Sea Pines dredging project at this early stage of the permitting process is more political than scientific.
The South Island Dredging Association, of course, hopes the endorsement boosts its chance of getting permission from state and federal regulators to dump dredge spoil from Harbour Town and other Sea Pines waterways at the mouth of Calibogue Sound. Its disposal plan must meet environmental regulations and pass muster with the likes of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Natural Resources.
Science should guide the permit decision, and fortunately, the town's resolution includes caveats that diminish its political sheen. Its support is predicated on the project meeting all federal, state and local regulatory requirements, as well as strict monitoring of the project.
Strict monitoring is the key. Permit requirements and dredging association promises play second fiddle to execution.
We saw that in 2003. State and federal regulators concluded that about 75 percent of the muck dredged from Sea Pines' marinas and waterways ended up in Calibogue Sound rather than an approved offshore dump site. The town stopped the pumping of sand from the dredging project onto South Beach because the material was not the promised "beach quality" and concluded that the dredging operator's methods resulted in the loss of 3,000 cubic yards of sand there. Costly erosion damage at the 18th green at Harbour Town Golf Links also was attributed to dredging work.
Given that record, we strongly urge the association to make monitoring of the new project as transparent as possible. Its plans calls for an on-site inspector to monitor operations and file daily reports with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those reports should be made public in real time. Members of the public were critical in bringing to light what was going on in 2003.
In endorsing the new project, council members cited studies by Charleston-based GEL Engineering, which was hired by the dredging association.
Its models indicate tidal currents will sweep much of the dredge spoil 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, according to the models.
But models are just that -- models.
The spoil would be dumped on about 56 acres of sandy bottom near Barrett Shoals, a source of sand for beach renourishment. Scott Liggett, the town's public projects and facilities director, raises a good point: "What they're proposing to dump is not beach compatible. If the sediment doesn't dissipate as they predict ... we could be forced to find an alternate source."
Where the association's lobbying has taken hold is in the financial aspects of the project. The town's resolution endorses the association's conclusion that alternative means of disposal are not available and inland open water disposal is "the only practicable and feasible alternative to maintain navigability of the subject creeks and marinas." Read that as the most economic solution for the dredging association.
Cost is just one factor and is rightly listed below environmental and monitoring concerns in the town's resolution.