A short-term plan to dredge Hilton Head Island's Harbour Town Yacht Basin has been derailed.
The board of directors of the Calibogue Cay property owners association last week rejected a request from Harbour Town property owners to allow one-time use of the community's disposal site, according to director Thomas Williams.
The vote means another two to three years could pass before the yacht basin can be dredged. The South Island Dredging Association must now pursue state and federal approval to dump mud and silt into Calibogue Sound, according to Sea Pines officials.
"We don't have any solutions at this point in time, and the marina is continuing to fill in. We're back to the drawing board," said Stu Rodman, Beaufort County councilman and Harbour Town slip owner. "It was a good college try, but the Calibogue Cay board decided it didn't work for them."
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Harbour Town boat-slip owners were negotiating to use the site to dump spoil from the yacht basin, which is overdue to be dredged. Cost, permitting and regulatory issues associated with disposal have already delayed work.
Several waterways in Sea Pines are clogged with silt, making it difficult for boats to get in or out at low tide. About eight slips already have been lost in Harbour Town because of silt filling the channel entrance.
"All large boats are bypassing Hilton Head," Rodman said.
Calibogue Cay owners have exclusive rights to the dump site, according to Sea Pines' covenants.
Williams, an attorney, and others opposed expanding the site for Harbour Town's use and threatened to sue.
Harbour Town property owners would have paid to raise the site's dike walls six feet using the existing spoil, allowing most of the yacht basin to be dredged. Once that material dried, the site could hold spoil from one or two more rounds of dredging by Calibogue Cay, according to an engineering survey.
But more than 20 Calibogue Cay homeowners objected to seeing the dike raised, said Cary Kelley, executive vice president of Community Services Associates. CSA maintains Sea Pines' common property, including the disposal site.
Instead, the Calibogue Cay board proposed the site could be used as is.
Slip owners, however, rejected the offer because that would mean a much smaller amount could be dredged and there would have been additional costs for trucking away material, Rodman said.
The proposal from Harbour Town owners had won the backing of the Calibogue Cay board in July.
Williams said the board withdrew its support because the plan "wasn't in the best interest of residents" but would not elaborate.
He said fear of a lawsuit was not a factor in the board's decision.
Other members of the Calibogue Cay board could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Sea Pines and slip owners have considered using parts of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve and a site near Savannah used by the Georgia Ports Authority. But none of those options is feasible because of cost, regulatory hurdles, disruption to residents or liability concerns, Kelley said.
A CSA dredging task force concluded hydraulic dredging with open-water disposal is the least expensive option and has the least adverse effect on the community and environment, according to a final report submitted Aug. 23.
State regulations allow open-water disposal if land disposal is not feasible. Short- and long-term impacts to water quality also need to be evaluated.
Several state and federal agencies have objected to open-water disposal, as have environmental groups concerned the material could harm marine life.
Kelley, though, points to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has used open-water disposal in the Edisto River and Dewee's Inlet to maintain navigation. In both cases, land sites were not available.
Sean McBride, spokesman for the corps' Charleston District, said the corps is willing to help the dredging association put together a pilot project.
"Previous testing has shown we have material that is inherently in compliance, and we would hope the various environmental groups will respect the science," said dredging association president Jack Brinkley.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twiter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.