When Will Mann built his home in 1969 near a channel off House Creek, he never thought he and more than 700 other property owners overlooking the water could be on the hook for dredging the channels to the tune of up to a maximum of $24,000 apiece.
But according to North Myrtle Beach officials, that very well may be the case.
“Back in that period of time and the ‘80s and early ‘90s even, I could take a boat and go out anytime, even low tide,” Mann said. “A lot of that’s grown in now. Now, it’s just solid mud.”
The channels along House Creek from 42nd Avenue North to about 62nd Avenue North were man made in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which is the last time the area was cleared of debris.
Now at low tide, small water spouts make a crackling noise through sporadic oyster beds and the aroma of mud lingers until the tide rises again.
It’s taken nearly a decade – including court battles – to get to this point.
In 2004, the city initiated work to determine the feasibility of the project, and in 2005, the Department of Health and Environmental Control issued a permit to begin dredging, “but it was considered to be way too constrictive to be cost effective,” said Pat Dowling, spokesman for the city of North Myrtle Beach.
In 2009, the city had its first meeting with canal property owners to discuss the status of the project. The original developer was claiming rights to the channel, but the S.C. Supreme Court ruled the state owned the channels.
In 2011, the S.C. General Assembly exempted the dredging of the channels from any DHEC jurisdiction, so that took DHEC out of the picture.
In 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a 10-year permit to allow the dredging of the canals and the disposal of the dredged material at the nearby Tide Water Basin. The two-dredge process — one for the initial dredge and another for a maintenance dredge — will dig up to 3 1/2 feet deep and will cost about $13 million, Dowling said.
He said the city has spent $1.25 million already on legal fees and engineering, and has allotted $800,000 each for the initial dredging and the maintenance dredging.
Dowling said the current plan calls for the remainder of the funding to come from owners of properties along the channels, as well as owners of 20 condominium units and two duplexes based on the average assessed value of properties.
“That’s the fairest and most logical way to do it,” Dowling said. “Otherwise, you’ll have eternal arguments.”
The $13 million price tag will be split by more than 700 properties and equals about $24,000 per person, which shocked Mann when he found out at a recent public hearing that drew hundreds of residents.
“I think the reason not more people spoke is because they were actually dumbfounded,” Mann said, adding only eight people spoke up about the price tag, which would be spread over 10 years. “People were caught so off guard by the $24,000 that they did not know what to say.”
Bruce Parker, also a resident of Cherry Grove on the inlet, called the price “a little much,” and offered an alternative that would be more affordable to residents.
“The city should pick up 50 percent of the cost and that way, $12,000 is much better than [$24,000],” Parker said.
Dowling said other options are to charge people a user fee to pay for the dredging, however that plan wouldn’t work because it would not allow the city to secure the bonds needed for the improvements. He said spreading the bill among 31,000 parcels in North Myrtle Beach wouldn’t be fair, either.
However, Mann thinks that would be proper and would only mean about $53 per parcel annually.
“It’s an asset to the city,” he said. “Let’s make North Myrtle Beach as nice as it could possibly be and let’s all pay our fair share.”
Mann said the $24,000 price tag also causes a headache for anyone looking to sell their property, which he points out is not many. He said when buyers find out they will be on the hook for $24,000 over the next 10 years, that may impact the profit of the seller.
Dowling said the dredging is expected to increase property values along the channels by up to 40 percent, which is part of the reasoning city officials have used to say property owners should foot the dredging bill.
“The problem comes down to do you also want to share in a permanent bridge installed at Barefoot to replace the swing bridge?” Dowling said. “If you set the precedent now with the Cherry Grove dredging, then that’s going to be true in these other projects too.”
The council is scheduled to vote on a resolution to create a Cherry Grove Improvement District at its Nov. 17 meeting, which is the next step in moving the project forward.
If approved, there would be a 180-day period that would include a public hearing and an opportunity for property owners to appeal their individual property assessments, which could impact how much they pay.
In January, council could then pass the ordinance to establish the special assessment district, and the first payment would be due January 2016.
Dowling said either way the cost is split up, the city must do something to clear its water areas.
“One thing nobody wants to do is wait another 50 years to get to the point it is now,” he said.