Dredging the Harbour Town harbor is a topic that can be viewed from two distinct perspectives.
From one perspective, Harbour Town and its lighthouse are the internationally identifiable symbols of Hilton Head Island. For that reason, the continued viability of Harbour Town and its harbor are of critical importance to all of us on Hilton Head.
From the other perspective, Harbour Town is a private business. Owners and investors have a responsibility to maintain and improve their investment.
But from both perspectives, we have a common problem. The harbor is quickly becoming a large mud puddle.
This is not a new problem, and it needs a permanent solution. The questions are: How do you economically and in an environmentally safe way dredge the harbor? Where should the dredge spoil be placed?
There is only one viable solution: Create a permanent upland disposal site inside the Sea Pines Forest Preserve for dredged material from the Harbour Town harbor and its entrance channel. This solution is the easiest to permit; the least environmentally offensive; technically feasible; and legally and practically implementable since Sea Pines Resort owns or controls land in the Forest Preserve and much of the Harbour Town marina.
The Forest Preserve is the only undeveloped location in Sea Pines that might be used for a permanent upland disposal site.
In the last successful dredging of Harbour Town (not the 2003 effort), the spoil was hydraulically pumped through a temporary pipe from Harbour Town to the lake in front of Lawton Stables. I understand that the lake is now too small and too full to be used again. But the past effort shows that pumping spoil from one area to another is possible.
Covenants divide the Forest Preserve into the "outdoor recreation" zone, the "wildlife" zone and the "utility" zone.
There is also one tract within the Forest Preserve that has no material restrictive covenants (the old Forest Beach Public Service District sewer plant site). Presumably, almost any use is permitted on that site.
An upland disposal site would probably be only 4 to 5 acres. The Forest Preserve is more than 500 acres. The upland disposal site would not be large enough to either detract from the experience of walking through and enjoying the Forest Preserve or negatively affect the animals that live there. (It is important to remember that there is a large sewer treatment plant in the Forest Preserve.)
There are several large cleared open fields that could be converted to an upland disposal site without clearing trees. The acreage comprising an upland disposal site might be allocated to:
*The "outdoor recreation" zone. This land use has always been reserved for a potential fifth golf course, but that possibility is remote. Perhaps it is a stretch to argue that a disposal site is legally within the permitted uses of the "outdoor recreation" zone, but boating is outdoor recreation. The disposal site could be defined as an integral part of boating and the use of the harbor.
The old sewer plant site offers two solutions:
With proper landscaping an upland disposal spoil site does not detract from the surrounding property. (Just look at the permanent upland disposal site for Shelter Cove Harbour. The site is next to U.S. 278, but the landscaping is so thick that nobody even knows it is there.)
The permitting of an upland disposal site is certainly less difficult to obtain than getting permission for spoil disposal into Calibogue Sound.
Some people claim that using the Forest Preserve for an upland disposal site is not legally possible. To that criticism, I says let's figure out a way to make it possible. Others may say that from an engineering prospective, the mud and silt cannot be pumped that far. I say install either a second pump or a bigger pump. And to those who say, this option has been considered, I say reconsider it, because there are no other viable options.
Community Services Associates and the Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners need to approve the land use changes needed. The town and state agencies need to issue any needed permits. Those concerned about the environment need to recognize that upland disposal is the best (or the least environmentally offensive) option and support it.
Next April, when the television cameras are showing Harbour Town and the golf commentators are talking about how truly special Hilton Head Island is, we need to make sure that those cameras are not showing pictures of boats stuck in the mud in the middle of the harbor.
Michael L.M. Jordan is an attorney and a resident of Sea Pines.