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Murrells Inlet: Litter is a family affair for Golden Oyster winner

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Murrells Inlet 2020 honored Matt Burroughs with its annual Golden Oyster Award for environmental stewardship and Cathy Smith with its Volunteer of the Year Award at the conclusion of the annual Chowder Talk Tuesday at the new Murrells Inlet Community Center.

The Golden Oyster Award is presented in memory of Dr. H.P. “Pat” Worrell. “It’s a unique and special award,” Burroughs said during an interview Wednesday. “I was very surprised to receive it. It’s pretty awesome.”

Burroughs said he grew up in Conway and has spent his life on the water. He moved to the inlet almost 10 years ago. “It’s something my family and I enjoy,” he said. “I want to take care of it and make sure it’s there for my two boys and their kids after them.” Burroughs said he assisted with the inlet’s watershed study where he could. “They’ve done a great job with that plan,” he said. “Hopefully, it will get more and more people to be more mindful of the trash. If you see trash, pick it up. It’s a great thing for the inlet.”

Murrells Inlet 2020 board chairman Sean Bond presented Burroughs the award and called him “a great steward to our community” who started a litter patrol with his two sons.

Smith has been volunteer coordinator for Race for the Inlet the past two years. Linda Connell, a Murrells Inlet 2020 board member who presented the award, said Smith volunteered to help with the race when it looked like it might be discontinued in 2011. “When I became chairman of Race for the Inlet, I took advantage of our friendship and convinced her — she would say conned her — into becoming volunteer coordinator,” Connell said.

Smith said she recruited volunteers for over 100 positions who came through on last year’s race day despite a torrential rainstorm. “It seemed like we needed Noah’s Ark,” Smith said during an interview Wednesday. “I had very few people drop out. It was fun, a lot of fun.”

The Chowder Talk moved to the community center from its previous location, Inlet Affairs. Neighboring Lee’s Inlet Kitchen provided the chowder. “This building is a fantastic achievement,” Bond said.

Jerry Oakley, who represents much of the Murrells Inlet area on County Council, made some farewell remarks during the meeting. He said he promised to remain on council until the community center was built. Now that it’s a reality, he will not seek re-election, turning his post over to John Thomas, who is unopposed in the November election.

Bond recounted the organization’s achievements of the past year, including the recent Fall Haul cleanup that netted 70 bags of trash from the inlet. The Jetty View Walk was completed at Morse Landing Park, new flower boxes were built and 3.5 miles of Highway 17’s median were mowed twice a month in the past year. Three large entrance signs and four directional signs in the inlet were replaced.

No mention of the year’s controversial fireworks display, Monday Night Lights, was made, even though the board was drawn into a discussion about the effects of debris on the inlet’s water quality. A watershed plan was completed that addresses stormwater runoff and pollution that affects oyster beds. Murrells Inlet 2020 executive director Renee Williamson said the goal was to have 80 percent of the inlet’s beds open to a standard that makes raw shellfish edible.

The primary contributor to fecal coliform in the inlet was found to be wildlife and waterfowl with pet waste a close second, she said. Sedimentation causes lower salinity and provides a breeding ground for bacteria, she said.

Much of the inlet’s sediment problem could be solved by dredging, and that provided a segue to Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway to discuss the upcoming referendum on the capital project sales tax.

Under the proposal, $10.3 million would be spent to dredge Murrells Inlet and prepare a spoils site. The economic value of the inlet was estimated at $720 million during a study done by Coastal Carolina University.

“This is a delicate ecosystem requiring a healthy balance between shellfish, commercial fishing and recreational boating,” Hemingway said.

It’s been 13 years since the inlet was dredged, he said. At that time federal money was available for dredging recreational channels. The rules have changed. “In my opinion,” he said, “there will never be federal dollars again to dredge Murrells Inlet. It is now competing with the Charlestons, Norfolks and Jacksonvilles of the world.”

Hemingway said Georgetown County Council determined that an additional 1-cent sales tax was the best means to fund dredging projects at Murrells Inlet and the port of Georgetown, build rural fire stations to lower insurance costs for residents in the western part of the county, assist with a new police and fire facility in Andrews and resurface 45 miles of roads.

Though a sales tax referendum was defeated by voters two years ago, council members felt a smaller objective restricted to core services over a shorter time period could pass. The proposal will generate an estimated $28 million over four years. If it passes, collection will begin May 1, 2015, and end April 30, 2019.

Hemingway said residents of the Waccamaw Neck will receive $13 million in direct benefit from dredging the inlet and road resurfacing but suggested that the long view of helping the remainder of the county grow would eventually provide some property tax relief.

The Waccamaw Neck generates 82 percent of property tax for the county now.

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