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Port of Georgetown: Barge plans won’t deter efforts to deepen port

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Members of the Georgetown Port Task Force will not consider two proposals for mooring buoy facilities to allow cargo to be transferred by barge between the port and the mouth of Winyah Bay as a substitute for dredging the shipping channel.

Barges could be towed up and down Winyah Bay without dredging the shipping channel to 27 feet, members of the task force were told at a meeting Thursday at in Georgetown. Offloading some cargo onto to barges could possibly allow ocean going cargo ships to maneuver the channel’s 19-foot depths into the port itself.

Brad Strobel, manager of bulk and break bulk goods for the State Ports Authority, said the concept is a good one.

“It’s something we can support,” he said. “It could allow Georgetown to compete with deeper ports.”

Two competing companies have applied for permits to construct a mooring facility. Coastal Terminals of Charleston has been identified by the Corps of Engineers, but the second one remains confidential.

Bob Perry, environmental program director for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said the proposals for the anchorage systems are in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas on the East Coast.

He said the Yawkey Center on South Island was one of the most significant natural resource gifts to the state of all time. The late Tom Yawkey left the property along with an endowment to manage it. North Island has been declared a Wilderness Area, From North Inlet to Capers Island is designated as a biosphere reserve, an international resource treasure. The Georgetown lighthouse has been declared a historic landmark.

Perry said his agency would consult with the Yawkey Foundation before making a decision about allowing a mooring facility.

Tommy Fennel, chief of the Corps of Engineers branch in Conway, said considerations would have to be given to endangered species, sea turtle nesting, the effects of artificial lighting and navigation before a permit could be issued.

Tim Tilley, chairman of the task force, blamed government bureaucracy for the port’s problems.

“The county is getting its clock cleaned by government,” he said. “They are keeping industries from bringing jobs here. The port hasn’t been dredged because of government bureaucracy.”

Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said that government budget cuts are to blame for the port not being dredged, not bureaucracy.

Tilley apologized for allowing his frustration to boil over. “I care about something getting done,” he said. “It gets very frustrating the longer things get tied up. We know we live in a litigious society. We’d like advice on getting the maintenance dredging done.”

Lisa Metheney, assistant chief for projects for the corps’ Charleston district, said it would take at least three years and $33 million to dredge the channel to 27 feet. Most of the silted in areas are near the port itself where the Sampit River empties into the harbor. Once it’s dredged, she said, maintenance dredging could cost around $5 million a year.

Sen. Yancey McGill said the task force was not backing off on dredging despite the barge proposals. “We don’t want any misunderstanding about our needs for that 18-mile channel,” he said.

He said $18.5 million is available from the state and wanted to form a delegation to speak with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Tim Scott in Washington, D.C., about federal funds.

“This is too important to wait on,” he said.

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