Don't risk Harbour Town for other dredging work

Calibogue Cay property owners' decision to say no to Harbour Town property owners expanding their dredge disposal site to accommodate spoil from the marina is troubling for two reasons:

  • It could delay dredging Hilton Head Island's signature marina for several years.
  • The Harbour Town marina's fate remains linked to other less critical waterways in Sea Pines and sets up using Harbour Town as political leverage to gain approval for dumping dredge spoil into Calibogue Sound.
  • Uncoupling the Harbour Town project from the community's other waterways in need of dredging takes away a singular negotiating tool for those seeking inshore disposal. South Island Dredging Association officials have shown they can get attention for their issues if they talk about Harbour Town and its place in our tourism-oriented economy. Upstate lawmakers who in 2003 pushed for special legislation to remove Sea Pines' dredging projects from state oversight consistently pointed to Harbour Town and its economic impact as their reason for doing so.

    Under the one-time proposal to use the Calibogue Cay site, 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.

    After homeowners objected to raising the dike, the Calibogue Cay board proposed that the site be used as is. But boat slip owners in Harbour Town said no because the amount dredged would be less and the cost to haul it away would be more, said Stu Rodman, a Beaufort County Council member and boat slip owner.

    Sea Pines and dredging association officials say they've looked at other options and concluded the costs were prohibitive.

    But open water disposal should be the last resort because of its potential risk to the environment. State regulators say they have approved open-water disposal only when land disposal options aren't available.

    The question is what makes land disposal not an option. Is it the cost? Is it not workable because trucks would travel through Sea Pines to haul away the muck dredged from the waterways?

    We urge Sea Pines officials to readdress the Harbour Town project in light of the Calibogue Cay decision and to separate the project from the other waterways.

    It represents about 20 percent of the estimated 350,000 cubic yards of spoil to be removed, according to a 2008 survey. In years past, dredging there has been done in two stages: first the channel, then the basin. That might reduce the acreage needed for upland disposal and removal. Areas of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve have been looked at for the entire project; they should be looked at again with just Harbour Town in mind.

    Most importantly, science must not take second place to finances. Any open-water disposal must meet environmental regulations and pass muster with the likes of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Natural Resources.

    Regulators are concerned that material dumped in the sound could cover marine life on the bottom of the sound or drift elsewhere, harming water quality and marine life. It also could be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins from boat engines and other activity.

    Sea Pines officials say the material to be dredged meets regulators' standards. They can make their case, and they should do it based on sound science.

    Calibogue Sound is an important public resource and should not be compromised by the financial interests of private parties.