Mount Pleasant leaders push back on Crab Bank renourishment location

Updated: Jan. 11, 2021 at 6:16 PM EST
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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - While some in the Town of Mount Pleasant are worried about the location of a bird sanctuary renourishment near Shem Creek, advocates say it’s a necessary project to protect wildlife in the area.

A study by the town says that a planned renourishment at Crab Bank Island, could potentially lower water levels in Shem Creek. It predicts the town could lose around $83 million annually if the popular shrimp spot gets closed off from the rest of the harbor.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie says the town wants to see the project completed, but further away from the mouth of the creek.

“There are a couple of things to remember, there’s a right way to put the equivalent of a 50-acre island off the mouth of Shem Creek in front of Mount Pleasant,” Haynie said. “Shem Creek is going to be too shallow for shrimp boats in a matter of a few years and we cannot as a council standby and not raise our voices of concern about the right way and a wrong way to do this.”

Tuesday, the town will take up a resolution urging the US Army Corps of Engineers to redesign the location of the project.

While officials with the Army Corps of Engineers call the project a “Win-win” for conservation and the town. But an email sent to local businesses by the corps calls parts of the town’s study “not accurate.”

“Current conditions easily serve the commercial, shrimping, and recreational vessels that utilize and visit Shem Creek and provide for unimpeded access to deeper harbor waters even at low tide,” the letter reads in part.

USACE Civil Works Chief Jeff Livasy said based on their modeling of the project, it would not cause increased sediment and damage to the mouth of Shem Creek.

Livasy said the corps monitors the creek twice a year and plans to work with the town and contractors to come to a compromise.

Chris Crolley, owner of Coastal Expeditions, has been advocating for the wildlife habitat for decades.

“I do not fear that Shem Creek will fill-in regardless of where they put the renourishment material for crab bank,” Crolley said.

He says wherever the bulk of the island’s renourishment goes, it’s a critical step to protect native coastal birds.

“I was so pleased at the last council meeting to hear that Mount Pleasant town council and mayor Haynie were referred to this project as something that is certainly going to happen,” Crolley said. “This is an opportunity to bring the community together around something very important and special.”

In response to the USACE email, Mount Pleasant town administrator Eric DeMoura said “We also hope for a win-win but we stand by our studies and we hope for a successful resolution.”

Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District Commander and District Engineer LTC Rachel Honderd sent this letter in response to Mount Pleasant’s study:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District (Corps), is contacting you as the recipient of a previous survey on this subject from the Town of Mount Pleasant. The Corps manages many water resource and ecosystem restoration projects within South Carolina and the nation, with the Shem Creek Navigation Channel, Crab Bank Restoration, and Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening projects being just a few of many.

Regarding the Crab Bank Restoration Project, the Corps and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) want this project to be a “win-win” for the community and we recognize the importance of the Shem Creek Federal Navigation Channel. Shem Creek serves as a cultural and economic asset for the Lowcountry, just as the Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary serves as critical habitat for small and highly threatened populations of shorebirds that make the Lowcountry their home and delight visitors to our beautiful community and Shem Creek.

During the last few months, we have observed that some of the information disseminated regarding the current and future conditions of the Shem Creek Federal Navigation Channel is not accurate. Specifically, a survey was sent out which implied that Shem Creek would become permanently shallower by approximately 2 feet, 4 feet, and 6 feet at high tide. In this email, we would like to provide more complete information and context.

First, the Shem Creek channel is part of the Charleston Harbor Federal Navigation project and consists of a federal navigation channel from the Coleman Boulevard bridge to the Atlantic Intracoastal Water Way (AIWW). It does not include the nearshore shallow water route to the harbor between Crab Bank and Patriot’s Point known as the Hog Island Channel. The Shem Creek channel conditions can be seen in the attachment which is derived from Project Condition Surveys we perform twice a year and post as hydrographic maps at this location:

Please note that all measurements are referenced to Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) and not high tide as indicated in the Town’s survey questions. The Shem Creek channel has an authorized depth of 10 feet MLLW, so it can be seen that overall, the channel is performing well since our last maintenance dredging performed in 2014, despite several coastal storms from 2015 to 2019. Current conditions easily serve the commercial, shrimping, and recreational vessels that utilize and visit Shem Creek and provide for unimpeded access to deeper harbor waters even at low tide. The last survey was conducted in November of 2020 and conditions are monitored to request federal funding and schedule maintenance operations as needed. As with all federal funding, it is appropriated by Congress, and the Corps cannot make a guarantee for future funding on behalf of Congress.

Second, the three survey questions which imply the channel will become permanently shallower do not reflect our professional judgement or the modeling conducted by our agency to determine the performance and behavior of Crab Bank upon project completion. The restoration is scheduled to begin in the early fall of 2021 and is a partnership between the Corps and DNR to capitalize on and beneficially use some of the compatible dredged material from the approximately $550 million Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening project that is currently underway.

Crab Bank is a dedicated Heritage Trust Property and Seabird Sanctuary owned, managed, posted for no access (March 15 to Oct. 15), and patrolled by DNR. In response to previous Town of Mount Pleasant concerns, the Corps and DNR agreed to alter the original plan to demonstrate our commitment to listening to the Town and agreed to an April 2019 revised footprint that serves as a compromise.

Lastly, please know that the Corps remains committed to keeping local leaders and the Town of Mount Pleasant informed as the construction date approaches. We request that you stay tuned to project updates as we look forward to completing this important project in 2021!

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