Controlling dredging comes with price tag

State Sen. Tom Davis' decision to forestall creating a special tax district in Sea Pines to pay for dredging there is not surprising given the objections it met with recently from several hundred of the community's property owners.

Their concerns lay in part with no guarantee that all property owners, if indeed any, would get to vote on the proposal to spread the cost of dredging Sea Pines' marinas and waterways across the community. It also would bring in the Town of Hilton Head Island, which would set up the district and collect the taxes to pay for the project.

But Davis said last week, "Sea Pines owners have made it very clear that they prefer to address this dredging issue themselves, rather than having government involved."

Fine, so now what? Setting up a municipal tax district was a viable way to get the town involved in dredging there, something Town Council has been hearing for years is important to do, particularly from Councilman George Williams of Sea Pines. Proponents have said the permitting complexities, escalating expense and need to get tax-generating Harbour Town Yacht Basin fully operational warranted the town stepping in.

If Sea Pines doesn't want government involved, that also should preclude using town hospitality or accommodations tax revenue to pay for the projects.

You can't have it both ways.

And given the competing demands for that money, particularly for beach renourishment, it could be a hard sell. Pumping sand on the island's eroding beaches does far more to fill the town's and business community's coffers, as well as protect island property values, than dredging in Sea Pines.

If Sea Pines takes public money for its dredging, residents and business owners should think through the ramifications. For example, would it have any impact on the community's ability to charge to enter Sea Pines, a major source of funding for roads and open space maintenance? That worries some.

We've long maintained that keeping private, commercial marinas operational should be an expected cost of doing business. The type of long-term planning on funding and dredge spoil disposal under way now is long overdue.

That's why it was encouraging to see a private solution for dredging Harbour Town nearly at hand.

Harbour Town would pay to enlarge an onshore disposal site at Calibogue Cay in Sea Pines so that spoil could be dumped there. This $1.5 million project, including dredging, is viewed as a short-term solution for Harbour Town. The Calibogue Cay owners, who must approve the plan, use the site for their own dredge spoil. The Calibogue Cay owners association board supports a one-time use of the site.

The clock is ticking on the current permits that would allow the Harbour Town dredging. The federal permit expires in March 2012; the state permit expires at the end of 2012.

Fixing high-profile Harbour Town would take a good bit of pressure off the urgency of figuring out a long-term dredging plan for the community.

But the basic questions remain: Who pays and where will the spoil be dumped. Those issues, especially the latter, affect all of us, whether we live in Sea Pines or not.