A Beaufort man's plan for two deep-water docks off of The Point neighborhood has met some opposition, but he says it's the only solution for safely reaching the water.
Scott Sonoc received approval this summer to extend his dock at 500 Port Republic St. across a creek and into the Beaufort River. He contends, based on an engineering study he had conducted, that the creek's mouth is filling in and will soon no longer be usable.
"Even today, it is less navigable than it was last year," Sonoc said. "... With the silting in, even using the south entrance today is very dangerous because the structure of the bridge sits right in the entrance to that waterway."
He has now applied for a permit to build a second identical 300-foot dock at the property he bought next door.
Similar requests have been made in the past on the basis of declining conditions in the creek.
Some Beaufort residents oppose the work, saying it will impede kayaks and other small boats using the creek and affect views of the water.
"It is a recreational gem, and no dock should ever be permitted to cross it," neighborhood resident Elizabeth Miller wrote in a letter to the Department of Health and Environmental Control's Ocean and Coastal Resource Management division opposing Sonoc's most recent application.
Sonoc said the creek would remain usable, that he and his wife kayak and that the creek isn't safe for larger boats.
DHEC requires 20 requests from concerned residents for a public hearing on a permit request. Information on the status of Sonoc's application was unavailable from DHEC this week.
Mary Shahid, Sonoc's attorney, said she has not been notified of a public hearing.
Sonoc won the right to extend his dock this summer in S.C. Administrative Court after DHEC denied the request.
He first received a permit for a short dock in 2009 and applied to extend the dock in 2013.
DHEC denied the request based on the impact the dock would have on the creek and that Sonoc's property wasn't waterfront, according to the administrative ruling.
During his case for the extended dock, Sonoc bought the adjacent house and reconfigured the shared boundary line so that both properties are considered waterfront. He employed the engineering firm to conduct a study that showed shoaling in the creek was restricting access and that its closure was imminent.
That firm, Applied Technology & Management, had previously found that the creek was becoming more shallow, narrow and difficult to navigate.
State law requires a dock extend to the first navigable creek, unless there is a much larger waterway nearby and if conditions restrict the use of the first creek.
Administrative court judge Shirley Robinson said those exceptions were met in Sonoc's case by the nearby Beaufort River and conditions in the creek that make navigation difficult.
Shahid worked 10 years for DHEC as chief counsel of its coastal permitting office and now specializes in contesting administrative decisions, according to a biography on her firm's website. Sonoc's request fit neatly into what is allowed by state law, she said.
"And certainly when you own waterfront property, you want as much water access as you can get, because that's why you own waterfront property," she said.
Sonoc's plans for the extended dock called for a 306-foot walkway, a 16x16 pierhead, 24-foot ramp and floating dock, a boat lift and catwalk. The boat lift was disallowed based on Historic District Review Board restrictions placed on Sonoc's original permit.
He is asking for the same plans, including the boat lift, for the new property.
Dock permits do not require public hearings, city planner Lauren Kelly said. The Historic District Review Board has say on the aesthetics of the dock, but not the location or in granting permission to build, Kelly said.
The board's conditions for Sonoc's original permit were that the dock not include a boat lift, lighting or a gazebo.
The administrative order allowing the extended dock came with the conditions that pilings be separated 20 feet under the walkway crossing the creek to allow kayaks through and that the walkway be 4 feet above the average high water height.
Sonoc has now applied for a DHEC permit to build an identical dock at 400 Port Republic, the property he purchased while awaiting a ruling on his first permit.
DHEC posted a public notice about the request on Sept. 11, inviting public comment. That comment period ended Sept. 26.
Beaufort City Councilman Phil Cromer was among those to write in opposition to the dock on behalf of himself and his wife's family in The Point. Cromer, who lives in Spanish Point, said the sand could shift more favorably over time and that the creek should still be considered usable, even if only during higher tides.
The docks would also affect views crossing the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge and invite others to extend or build docks out to the river, Cromer wrote.
Sonoc is a Chicago architect who said he is now a permanent Beaufort resident. He said he and his wife love Beaufort and have supported the historic district by renovating their homes and the old fire station at Scott and Craven streets and by developing community gardens.
He noted the docks on many of the properties in his neighborhood.
"That fits perfectly with the working nature of the Beaufort River," Sonoc said. "It is very consistent the poetry of Beaufort."
Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.