Environment

Letter | North Myrtle Beach needs to rethink Cherry Grove canal dredging plan

March 5, 2014 

North Myrtle Beach

Channel homes are unique to the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach.

CHARLES SLATE — cslate@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

The City of North Myrtle Beach may be on the verge of committing to a dredging project of canals within the Cherry Grove Inlet that will serve a few to the detriment of many.

I am a geologist with multiple advance degrees in sedimentology and I am especially well educated in coastal processes. I own a recreational property in North Myrtle Beach. I read with interest Ken Lee's article in the editorial section of The Sun News where he opposed the dredging project and quoted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The National Marine Fisheries Service opposition to the project as well. Ken's and the government entities concerns focused on the cost to the public of a project with the potential to damage “estuarine resources” and/or its “fragile ecosystem.”

Well said, Ken, since the merit of these concerns are well founded, but that's not the half of it in an area whose economy relies heavily on the tourist industry. Allow me to explain. In tight spaces, such as the Cherry Grove canals, mechanical dredges (Dipper or Clam Shell) are the most efficient methods utilized, particularly where barges are the means for material disposal. More commonly, mechanical dredges are used at the mouth of inlets and inlet channels to improve navigation for both recreation and commercial purposes. The bottom sediments in the inlet channels and inlet mouth areas are primarily composed of fairly clean and well winnowed sand and, to a lessor degree, shells and some silt.

Not so for Cherry Grove's “man made” canals. Removed from the stronger tidal currents in the channels and ocean inlets, they filled over tens of years with much finer material. A less kind reference and description of this sediment fill would be mud, muck, sludge, and mayonnaise-like slime with associated contaminants. The contaminants are chemical nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, and the many trace elements needed for the growth and development of organisms, both aerobic and oxygen tolerant anaerobic bacteria. As well, since oyster and clam harvesting remains closed and dangerous within the canals, these fills probably still contain coliform microorganisms left by the old septic tank system and pesticides from lawn and nearby golf course maintenance.

All of these can pose health hazards to humans. But left undisturbed, they pose little or no hazard to the current recreational use of the inlet. “Mechanical Dredging” of the canals, even if turbidity barriers are used, can and probably will pose a significant hazard to the shorelines of North Myrtle Beach and Atlantic Beach and perhaps as far as Myrtle Beach. Mechanical dredging, by its nature, spills much of the shoveled material, leaving it suspended for tidal outflow. And because of it's fine-grain nature, this “stuff” will stay suspended for days or longer.

Much and perhaps all of the benthic (the ecological region at the lowest level of a body of water such as an ocean or a lake) life in the inlet may be affected or destroyed which explains why the Fish and Wildlife Services and The National Marine Fisheries Services have already voiced considerable concerns. But when the suspension reaches the ocean inlet during each day of dredging, South Carolina's predominantly north to south long shore currents will carry it south and redeposit much of the sediments and contaminants on the beaches.

This depositional process as a coastal phenomena can be witnessed by the discoloration of shoreline waters following heavy rains and storm water runoff, or the accumulation of sea grass and even jellyfish at times on the shores following ocean storms. I apologize for a worst-case scenario but, just in case, consider the discolored shoreline waters with the potential to sicken tourists, and consider beach closures, potential lawsuits from individuals, hotels, and adjacent beach resorts.

I suggest the City of North Myrtle Beach representatives carefully debate whether the benefit of navigational “canals” for an unfortunate few Cherry Grove canal property owners are worth the risk to many of its residents and tourists, and the economic well being of the community it serves.

The writer owns property in North Myrtle Beach.

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