Local Military News

‘Significant noise’: If you live near Parris Island, you might have heard this recently

A graphic from a 2016 Marine Corps environmental assessment shows projected noise levels associated with a new power plant and energy facility on Parris Island, South Carolina.
A graphic from a 2016 Marine Corps environmental assessment shows projected noise levels associated with a new power plant and energy facility on Parris Island, South Carolina. U.S. Marine Corps

A Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island construction — and testing — project has been making some noise that residents near the base couldn’t help but hear.

Michel Whitaker, an engineer who lives 1.5 miles or so across the water on Cat Island, heard the racket Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and wondered at its source.

He told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette he heard a loud, almost “whistling” sound Tuesday night that seemed to change pitches.

“And I think it ran like that most of the night,” Whitaker said.

By 7 a.m. or so Wednesday, Whitaker said, the sound had lessened, but was still noticeable — he described it as a “quiet,” “smooth-running” jet engine, but not as loud as, say, one of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort’s F-35 Lightning II fighter planes taking off.

Whitaker guessed it might have something to do with depot’s energy grid — and it appears he was right.

In an email to the newspapers, Marine Corps officials said Parris Island is “finalizing construction of a combined heat and power plant capable of producing 3.5 megawatts of power and the necessary steam for the Depot’s heat and hot water requirements.”

Part of that effort included a “one-time startup procedure on the steam boilers that required the venting of steam through the safety valves at maximum pressure for several hours,” the email said. “When the steam is vented in this manner, it produces significant noise.”

Depot officials said the procedure “is only required at initial installation and normal operation of the plant is much quieter.”

In 2015, the Corps contracted energy company Ameresco to upgrade Parris Island’s energy grid.

The project, first reported by the newspapers in 2016, incorporates a natural-gas fueled power plant (rated at 3.5 megawatts) and solar-panel farms capable of 6 megawatts or better, according to the company website.

The contract is worth $91 million, the company reported.

According to a 2016 Marine Corps environmental assessment of the project, construction “would generate temporary noise that would be perceptible to off-installation noise-sensitive receptors (NSRs) on Cat Island and Port Royal.

“The levels would be lower than EPA guidance levels, and the impact would not be significant,” the assessment noted.

But the assessment further noted that sound could be amplified when traveling across water.

Whitaker said other neighbors heard the noise this week and, like him, were curious about it.

Wade Livingston covers the Lowcountry’s “DNA” — the people, places and vibes that make our home what it is — the military, stories of general interest and all things beautifully, humanly quirky. The New York Times, Esquire and Harvard’s Nieman Storyboard have cited his reporting and storytelling.


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