Local environmental groups said Tuesday they are worried about the impact a proposed Bucksport Marina Industrial Park will have on the Waccamaw River and an adjacent wildlife refuge, but one of the project’s leaders said steps are being taken to minimize any risk and the benefit to the local economy could be tremendous.
Fred Richardson – executive director of the Grand Strand Water & Sewer Authority, which wants to build the industrial park – said it could give this area a unique opportunity to lure boat manufacturers and other industry with good-paying jobs. Richardson said the park is going through a rigorous permitting process that involves state and federal regulators to ensure any environmental impact is kept to a minimum.
Nancy Cave, north coast director of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, said her group opposes the authority’s plans to dredge about 40,000 cubic yards of material from the Waccamaw River to provide sufficient depths for navigation of large commercial vessels. The dredged material would be temporarily stored on barges and then loaded onto trucks for removal.
Cave was among environmentalists from several groups – including the conservation league, Sierra Club, Waccamaw Riverkeeper, S.C. Environmental Law Project and the state’s wildlife association – who held a news conference Tuesday at the authority’s office to draw attention to the proposed industrial park.
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“To propose such an activity in this area of the Waccamaw, with tidal freshwater habitat, adjacent to the wildlife refuge is inappropriate and will negatively impact the natural and human community,” Cave said.
Michael Corley, staff attorney with the S.C. Environmental Law Project, said the park would be another in a long line of area industrial facilities with few tenants but large public expenses.
“This type of speculative project provides a nice opportunity for politicians to tout themselves as ‘job creators,’ but at the end of the day, the public foots the bill to construct infrastructure for a project for which there is insufficient business demand,” Corley said.
Environmentalists said they are upset that regulators are not forcing the authority to compensate for any loss of wetlands and disturbance of the river. In addition to the dredging, the authority wants to fill one-tenth of an acre of tidal freshwater wetlands with 1,705 cubic yards to construct a bulkhead at the site.
Ben Grigg, executive director of the state wildlife federation, said in a statement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should do an environmental assessment of the project so the “public can analyze the full dimensions of the impacts of the marine facility.”
The industrial park site currently houses a riverfront restaurant, campground and the Bucksport Marina, used primarily by recreational boaters.
If built, the authority would own the marina and lease parcels to private businesses such as boat building enterprises, bulk cargo industry and heavy transport barge operations that could utilize the Intracoastal Waterway and access to the Atlantic Ocean. Plans include the construction of new docks and piers and a road connecting the marina to U.S. 701. The authority plans a 50-foot buffer to separate the marina from nearby residential properties.
There are about 195 acres of developable property on the tract, which the authority purchased in 2010. Of that amount, the authority proposes leasing 141 acres to industry – in parcels ranging from 10 acres to 36 acres – with the remaining land used for a marine common area and stormwater retention.
The area where the industrial park would be built is mostly undeveloped except for the existing Bucksport Marina, and most of the surrounding area includes state and federal protected lands and private property under conservation easements. Across the river from the site of the proposed facility are the Bucksport and Oliver Wildlife Management Areas, which are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.
Cave said she is concerned about the impact to the wildlife refuge of noise and pollution stemming from both the construction and operation of the industrial park. Environmentalists also cite noise and pollution from truck traffic during the dredging and construction process and resulting sprawl along the road connecting the park to U.S. 701.
“We also don’t know anything about they types of industries that would be locating there or the type of pollution they might create,” she said, adding that the Waccamaw River is one of this area’s primary drinking water sources.
Richardson said industries would be located on high ground away from the river and that docks would be extended to keep any manufacturing processes at a safe distance. He said there will be a “rigorous vetting process” before any industry would be allowed to locate at the park. The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., of which Richardson is chairman, would be in charge of recruiting businesses.
“Horry County would be able to distinguish itself with an industrial park that’s different than most,” Richardson said. “We don’t have an interstate that we can offer industries, but we do have the Intracoastal Waterway. In a tourism economy where the wages are pretty low, this gives us an opportunity to provide more jobs and increase wages.”
If the environmental permitting is approved, Richardson said it could take about a year for construction of the park.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control which is the lead regulator in charge of the project, rescheduled a public hearing on the industrial park that was supposed to follow Tuesday’s news conference. That hearing now will be held at 6 p.m. on March 10 at the authority’s main office at Jackson Bluff Road.