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Murrells Inlet: County will host meeting on dredging concerns

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway says residents of Murrells Inlet will be invited to a public meeting in early July to get answers to their questions about an upcoming $10 million dredging project.

Information, according to some members of the inlet community, has been in short supply. When Sandra Bundy, a former member of Murrells Inlet 2020, asked the Charleston District of the Army Corps of Engineers for a public hearing on the project, she was told it would be a waste of time.

Hemingway said the dredging will be done in two phases. The Corps of Engineers will be responsible for dredging the federal channel. Most of the dredge material removed in that phase of the project will be sand suitable for renourishing Garden City Beach. That phase could begin as early as September, Hemingway said.

Dredging of the finger channels and removal of the spoils are more complicated. That portion of the project is scheduled for Nov. 1 through March 31 with operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is the minimum amount of time to accomplish the proposed work, according to GEL Engineering of Charleston, the consulting firm hired by the county.

Hemingway said it’s likely the same dredging company will do both portions of the job, but he won’t know that until contracts are signed. Another portion of the project still undecided, he said, will be the spoils site. Land on Macklen Avenue is available, but Hemingway said the parking lot at the Department of Natural Resources boat landing is an alternative site further from houses.

Private citizens, government agencies and environmental groups questioned details regarding impact of the project during a comment period on the permit application.

The Corps of Engineers requested details of how pipelines will be secured to minimize or avoid impacts with oyster reefs, mud flats and marsh.

Larry Setzler, senior project manager for GEL Engineering, said the pipeline will be anchored to the bottom along the main channels, Marsh Walk channel and federal channel with additional anchors placed at bends to prevent it from swinging into areas of concern. Plastic poles will be erected to mark a 15-foot setback from oyster reefs or wetland vegetation prior to dredging.

The project will dredge the inlet to a depth between 6 and 7 feet at Mean Low Water. That depth will be sufficient to postpone the next maintenance dredging for 10 years, according to engineers. Cost could become a factor, and dredging may be performed at less than permitted depths.

The dewatering equipment, Setzler said, will be equipped with appropriate mufflers to control sound and contractors will be required to abide by local noise ordinances. The contractor does not anticipate any offensive odors because the dewatering is a closed system until sediments are strained to form a solid substance.

Engineers said the permit allows use of a hydraulic cutterhead suction dredge. “This method of dredging is recognized by the resource agencies as causing the least environmental impacts,” they said. “The proposed dredging system is basically a closed system in that once the cutterhead loosens the material, it is suctioned into the pipeline system that connects the dredge to the dewatering equipment at the upland site. The dewatering equipment separates the coarse grain material and debris before the remaining dredged material is introduced to a polymer that makes the dredged material bond together before passing through a belt-press process. The result is a ‘cake’ material that will be loaded into trucks and hauled to the county landfill.”

Gary Weinreich, a retired engineer and resident of Murrells Inlet, said GEL’s explanations are generic, non-committal and in no way responsive to the community’s questions and concerns expressed in initial comments submitted. “While the community remains in favor of the project,” he wrote, “it is imperative that the Army Corps of Engineers provide written assurance in the form of specific and binding permit conditions that impacts will be minimized.”

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