Hargray's optic cable plan draws fire in Sea Pines, praise on Daufuskie Island

Plans by Hargray to install fiber optic cable from Hilton Head to Daufuskie Island has some Sea Pines residents concerned about disruptions during tourist season, while their neighbors across the sound say the communications upgrade is overdue.

Hargray plans to bore under Calibogue Sound from land owned by Sea Pines' Community Services Associates, west of South Sea Pines Drive, to South Range Overlook at Haig Point to install the nearly one-mile long cable.

Chris McCorkendale, Hargray vice president of operations and engineering, said the company hopes to begin work this summer. The project could last as long as 90 days, according to a letter sent to the town. McCorkendale, though, said he expected it to last one to two months.

The Sea Pines South Beach Owners Association sent an e-mail April 26 to CSA requesting that the work be done in the fall or winter to avoid disruption to tourists.

"A large area will be required by the equipment, possibly shutting off the access to the beach," the letter states. "... To expect our guests (and owners) to tolerate constant noise at the height of our season is unreasonable. ... We do not believe that a project of this magnitude will be adversely affected by waiting."

Hargray provides telephone service to Daufuskie via an outdated microwave radio. Current data- and telephone-service technology uses fiber optics, which allows transmission over longer distances at greater speed, capability and reliability.

"The microwave radio performs satisfactorily, but it's not the best, most reliable technology out there," said McCorkendale. "We really need to upgrade the means for connecting to our network and the mainland. Daufuskie is an outlier. Everyone else in the county is connected to the same fiber optic network."

Eight-foot-high hay bales would be erected on each side of the boring equipment to absorb and deflect noise and screen them from view by nearby residences, the company says. The equipment would be stationed 50 feet from Sound Villas at 253 S. Sea Pines Drive.

"This is a huge technological development for Daufuskie and it's the right time to do it. The sooner, the better," McCorkendale said. "We are very sensitive and aware this be something all parties agree on and will do our best to mitigate temporary circumstances this creates."

All Hargray customers on Daufuskie would benefit, he said.

"It doesn't replace the current on-island networks ... but all of the Hargray services provided to the island today will be fed by way of this new fiber optic" cable, he said.

Daufuskie Fire Chief Edward Boys said the upgraded service will allow firefighters to communicate quicker and more efficiently with the county and surrounding agencies, speeding response to potential disasters, such as a hurricane.

The department now relies on phones and a fax machine to communicate with county emergency management officials, while all surrounding fire departments use a website to send and share information, Boys said.

The company has secured easements from both CSA and Haig Point and may have to get approval from the S.C. Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Town approval may also be required.

The project is expected to cost slightly less than $1 million. Current rates and charges for Hargray products and services would not change, McCorkendale said.