While residents squawk with North Myrtle Beach city officials on who should pay the $24,000 per unit price tag to dredge finger channels in Cherry Grove, resident Tom O’Hare said there are some residents being forgotten.
O’Hare’s home on 34th Avenue North off Ocean Boulevard would not be included in the proposed Cherry Grove Improvement District and the area around it will not be dredged, he said.
O’Hare said the dredging will not occur because of natural wetlands around his property.
“Our concern, as property owners, those homes that are in the dredging area, their property values, according to the North Myrtle Beach City Hall people, will be greatly increased,” O’Hare said. “While theirs are greatly increased and we have homes in the same area, ours are going to be greatly reduced... by as much as 50 percent.”
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He said the city has made it clear that one of the purposes of the dredging is to increase property value.
“Our properties are going to become, I don’t like to use the term, the ghetto of Cherry Grove or the less desirable properties,” O’Hare said of the home he and his wife have owned since 2011. “Now we’re finding out three years later that our investment in a waterfront home may all of a sudden be in great peril because many of the owners in North Myrtle Beach, we’re not opposed to people getting their property values increased naturally, we don’t think it should come at such a negative consequence upon the rest of us.”
Mayor Marilyn Hatley said the dredging project has been a long process and called it the longest project the city has worked on in her 17 years of public service. It’s taken nearly a decade – including court battles – to get to this point.
“We would love to dredge this gentleman’s property,” Hatley said. “It’s certainly not personal... But there comes a time when you’ve fought hard as you could possibly fight and you’ve won the battle but you didn’t win every confrontation. We won the battle, we got the permits to build. But, the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers and [Department of Health and Environmental Control] would not allow us to dredge certain channels because they had too much environmental importance.
“Sometimes you have to take as much as you can when you’re fighting for something.”
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.
The dredging is estimated to cost about $13 million, and the city’s main proposal is to charge the 700 parcels impacted by the dredging. That would mean a $24,000 bill for those property owners, which would be spread over 10 years. Homeowners in that area have expressed concern with that bill, and have said they would like the city to consider spreading the amount to all property owners throughout the city because of the economic impact the dredging is expected to have on North Myrtle Beach.
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.
O’Hare said he is exploring civil and legal avenues to see if he and 50 other property owners who were denied the dredging can be compensated in some way.
“I just want this to be thought out to its long-term and exhaustive conclusion, not just the ways that it will just help, but also how it will negatively impact homeowners like me,” O’Hare said. “What has happened here in this situation is they did not take a look at the negatives of this because there were so many positives from it. I’m going to certainly continue to exercise my right to have all sides of this story be known.”
O’Hare said he personally emailed all members of council, but received a joint answer via email from Dowling, which he said was “disappointing to me.”
“I thought that each of those individuals on city council would be independent thinkers who would not be grouped as one the city would speak for,” O’Hare said. “I don’t think it would do me any good at this point to go to individual members.”
Dowling said not every council member can reply immediately and in detail to each person who contacts them, and, in this case some council members were not available to respond. He said the city manager requested that his reply be sent to O’Hare on behalf of the council members contacted, and that was done. Dowling said O’Hare seemed pleased with the response.
“City council and city staff have received many inquiries concerning the project and in order to maintain factual consistency, we normally run responses through staff,” Dowling said. “There are a lot of facts associated with the proposed project, some of them still developing. City council focuses on the policy questions and staff manages the details.”
Dowling said if O’Hare would like to contact and talk with each city council member about his property, “he is more than welcome to do so.”
Hatley said the council has not decided what it will do and should have a good discussion at its Dec. 15 meeting, when the council is scheduled to vote on whether to create the Cherry Grove Improvement District.
“We really have not had a council discussion about that,” Hatley said. “We’re getting emails from people saying ‘Thanks so much for the project, but we really don’t want to pay for it.’
“If I was to make the decision to make the decision for everyone, then I would not make that decision on my own. I would put that on a referendum. And if it passes a referendum, then we do it that way. If it fails, then what happens? We only have a permit for 10 years. Will we ever get another one if we don’t do it now? I doubt it.”
Hatley said there’s nothing about the channel that qualifies for federal funding and the city cannot fund this project without raising the taxes.
“This is a work in progress,” Hatley said. “We’re trying to give them all the information we have. We still have some unanswered questions, so to that issue, we decided that we would just put it off to December to make sure we have everything down. We want to be accurate.”