Harbour Town dredging merits its own solution

For decades, Harbour Town Yacht Basin was dredged with regularity and little fanfare.

But that's not been the case since its fortunes were linked to dredging projects in other areas of Sea Pines more than a decade ago.

In fact, it's been a decade now since the marina was dredged, and the marina's owners and fellow members of the South Island Dredging Association can largely point to their own actions as the reason. The association's badly mishandled 2002-2003 project ended up in both state and federal courts.

Their request to dump dredge spoil in Calibogue Sound met with resistance in 2000, so it should be no surprise that the renewed effort to get permission to dump inshore is getting a thorough vetting.

There's no doubt Harbour Town is a special case; it needs to be dredged, and the fact that it's filling up with silt reflects badly on Sea Pines and Hilton Head Island, especially this time of year when Harbour Town is the focus of the RBC Heritage professional golf tournament.

That's why the marina has been used by the dredging association to justify its request to dump dredge spoil into Calibogue Sound and as a point of political pressure to make sure that happens.

But a best-case scenario ofNovember 2014 for a start date on the next round of dredging says Harbour Town needs a more immediate, less problematic solution to its dredging problems.

Harbour Town represents about 20 percent of the 300,000 cubic yards of sediment expected to be removed in the South Island Dredging Association project. There are other options besides the permit request rightfully being carefully scrutinized by state and federal regulators, a request that might face legal challenges that could set back even that November 2014 start.

Harbour Town officials should again seek their own solution, rather than tying the marina's fortunes to the dredging of Baynard and Braddock creeks and untested inshore disposal in Calibogue Sound.

Unfortunately, a proposal to expand the Calibogue Cay dredge disposal site in Sea Pines for a one-time Harbour Town use was turned down by the Calibogue Cay property owners. But that doesn't mean other options aren't out there.

Harbour Town officials need only look to their own past dredging projects. They included taking dredge spoil to other areas of Sea Pines and offshore sites near Port Royal Sound and Tybee Island.

Some have suggested finding a site in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. The South Carolina Environmental Law Project suggests a method called "spray dredging," in which at least part of the dredged material could be sprayed on surrounding marshes, bolstering and restoring those marshes.

Harbour Town could approach Calibogue Cay owners again about using their disposal site. It's worth a try.

And it's worth noting some of the concerns and questions raised to date about the request to dump dredge spoil at the mouth of Calibogue Sound.

They include: The accuracy of models used to predict what will happen if 300,000 cubic yards of silt, clay and other sediments are pumped into Calibogue Sound over six months; dated information about the site to be used for dumping; adequate monitoring and a detailed plan to stop or revise operations should problems arise; the area that would be affected by the dumping could be as much as 398 acres, not the 56 acres asserted in the permit request; and claims that hydraulic dredging with inshore dumping is the only "feasible" and "practicable" alternative.

The state Department of Natural Resources says other alternatives should be considered, including spreading out the project over two or three years; using a combination of hydraulic and mechanical dredging methods; using multiple disposal sites; and reducing the volume of sediment to be dredged.

Those suggestions could work in Harbour Town's favor, especially if following them speeds up the permitting process.

Dredging association officials say they are responding to the concerns. In the meantime -- and whether or not they eventually get the permit for inshore dumping -- another solution for Harbour Town dredging should be sought.

Harbour Town should be the top priority and its fortunes severed from dredging Baynard and Braddock creeks.