The South Island Dredging Association now has what it wants: a permit and a contractor to dredge the Harbour Town Yacht Basin and other waterways in Sea Pines and dump the spoils in open water.
One might think that's the end of a long saga, but the real work is just beginning.
This is where vigilance by the dredge operator, state and federal regulators and the public come into the picture.
The private association has a contract with Orion Marine Construction Inc. of Texas, and work is to begin in November. The contractor was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Charleston District, and it comes with excellent reviews from other districts where it has done dredging.
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This is good news, particularly if the Harbour Town marina is tackled first and this signature site for Hilton Head Island is once again at full use.
But don't forget that we've been here before. In 2003, it had permits and a contractor in hand to dredge the Harbour Town marina, Braddock Cove Creek at South Beach Marina, and Baynard Cove Creek. That project was halted, however, when the dredging contractor was accused of improperly dumping spoil into Calibogue Sound when it was supposed to be hauled offshore.
One lesson from that debacle is that federal and state regulators have to do a better job of oversight. Testimony in a criminal case resulting from that failed project showed that oversight was lacking. The on-site inspector was paid by the dredging association, and testimony showed that the daily inspection reports sat untouched on a desk at the Corps of Engineers office.
Ordinary citizens watching the last round of dredging played a key role in stopping it, and the new permit will require even more eyes on the target.
This time, 300,000 cubic yards of muck is to be piped to a 100-acre site about a mile from the toe of Hilton Head and a mile and a half from Daufuskie Island. There, it is supposed to be flushed to sea by tides rushing out of Calibogue Sound, without mounding -- without creating unacceptable levels of suspended sediment in the water, and without hurting aquatic life. Town of Hilton Head Island officials need to watch it closely because the site is near Barrett Shoals, a source of sand for its beach renourishment projects.
This time we know that inspections and testing built into the permit are not enough. Permit requirements don't safeguard the public interest in maintaining a pristine Calibogue Sound -- people do. The public depends on the permitting agencies to make scientifically-sound decisions on what can be dumped and where. And that public trust can only be upheld by inspectors doing their jobs.
How the dredging association executes this project is more important than what is has been permitted to do.