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Murrells Inlet: Corps plan for dredging near marina puts sand at state park

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Federal and state agencies plan to place 25,000 cubic yards of dredged sand from the Murrells Inlet Federal Navigation Channel at Huntington Beach State Park to protect the south jetty and restore lost shorebird habitat.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been testing the proposed spoils from a 1.1-acre portion of the channel near Marlin Quay Marina to determine its suitability for the park land. A public notice calling for comments on the proposal before Aug. 29 indicates the spoils were approved for the park, saving Georgetown County the cost of pumping that material to high ground, dewatering it and hauling it to the landfill.

Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the Corps’ decision to put these spoils — about 80 percent pure sand with other materials that make it discolored and unsuitable for Garden City Beach — at the state park will cut some of the dredging costs, estimated at about $8 million. Marlin Quay Marina has agreed to pay for removal of another 25,000 cubic yards of material to deepen its access to the inlet.

Pure sand from the entrance of the inlet and along the western edge of Garden City will be used to renourish the beach once the project begins this fall.

The dredging project’s purpose is to provide safe navigation for boat traffic by removing spoils in the channel from the 12-foot contour of the open ocean to the village of Murrells Inlet. Removal of the first 25,000 cubic yards is being done in conjunction of other maintenance dredging of the entrance channel, inner shoal and depositional basin. All the work is being funded by Georgetown County’s one-cent sales tax. No date has been set for a public meeting with county officials and consultants to answer questions and hear comments from inlet residents. The meeting will be scheduled after the dredging bids are let.

Residents have expressed concerns about effects on water quality and shellfish beds. The draft environmental assessment of the first portion of dredging says implementation of the proposed project would result in temporary, minor water quality degradation at the dredging and disposal sites. Although dredging and disposal activities typically contribute to localized turbidity increases, the sandy sediments which will be utilized for this project tend to settle rapidly, so the turbidity increase should be minor and or short duration. Chemical analysis of sediments from this shoal has revealed no significant concentration of toxic or harmful substances that could adversely affect water quality of the area, the draft said. The very low concentrations of organic matter in the sandy sediments should result in very little, if any, dissolved oxygen depression. Hence, water quality impacts from project construction should be insignificant and the state’s classification standards should not be contravened.

The draft said development of commercial fishing has been limited by the depth of water in the inlet. While the proposed maintenance dredging and placement at the south terminal jetty at Huntington Beach State Park may be an inconvenience to commercial fishers during construction, it is not expected to have any long-term adverse effects. Dredging for this project will be conducted with a pipeline dredge, which is stationary when working in a specific area. When the area within reach of the cutterhead has been dredged, the dredge swings forward slowly on its spuds to the next area. As result, the dredge and cutterhead are slow moving, allowing adequate time for mobile organisms to get out of the way. Deepening the navigation channel will provide fishing vessels better access to and from Murrells Inlet, which may actually improve commercial fishing. The presence of the dredge and associated equipment could create temporary inconveniences for boats navigating in the vicinity. However, since the dredge is either stationary or slow-moving, it does not provide a swiftly moving target that must be avoided, the draft document said.

The Corps of Engineers is accepting public comment only on impacts from dredging 25,000 cubic yards of material from the federal channel near Marlin Quay. Impacts of dredging the remainder of the inlet will be subject to public notice later. To view the permit application and draft environmental assessment go to scdhec.gov.

Address comments on the environmental assessment to Jesse.S.Helton@usace.army.mil.

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