As protest period closes, 185 complaints lodged against Cherry Grove dredging plan

Photo shows the view from the deck of a North Myrtle Beach during low tide on a Cherry Grove finger canal.
Photo shows the view from the deck of a North Myrtle Beach during low tide on a Cherry Grove finger canal. MyrtleBeachOnline.com file photo

Lydia Jernigan came to North Myrtle Beach City Hall Wednesday on a mission: To let City Council know she does not think her property belongs in the Cherry Grove special tax assessment district, and therefore should not be dredged and she should not be assessed up to $24,000 for the dredging.

She’ll find out in a few months whether her argument was convincing enough to prompt council to drop her from what has become the city’s most talked about issue over the last year — the dredging of finger canals in Cherry Grove and the city sharing the bill for the work with property owners abutted to the canals.

“Our property is uniquely different from properties on other canals,” said Jernigan, who was one of 185 property owners protesting the city’s assessment of properties that the city believes should be included for the project. “… Unlike the other canals, Canal Z has no defined dimensions or sea walls to contain the dredging or stop sand from being quickly re-deposited into the dredged area.”

The Canal Z Jernigan spoke about along with the cost of the dredging and the planned width of the dredging were the three most common themes among the written complaints, said Pat Dowling, public information officer for the city.

Wednesday was the final day property owners could submit the protest in writing to the city manager and back the written protest with a verbal statement. Thirty gave verbal testimony during the three days the city allowed for comment before the council.

From here, city staff and consultants will evaluate each protest and bring recommendations back to council, which will take a vote on each one to decide whether the property owner has merit or not, Dowling said.

“We think it will take us about two months to analyze the trajection,” Dowling said. “We’re going to give all of these to financial and legal consultants. They’re going to categorize them, meet with the city manager and staff and we’ll look into them further.

“Then once we’ve got a good handle on them that way, we’ll bring in city council and they’ll look at it and they can ask any questions of staff and the consultants that they want.”

Dowling said the final steps include meeting in an open session and discussing and voting on each protest individually. A date has not been set for that meeting. If those who protested do not like the council’s decision, they will have 20 days to file an appeal in circuit court.

Dowling said property owners either desire a wider cut that goes to their docks or one that goes seawall to seawall, as opposed to the proposed 24-feet, 3-1/2 feet deep cut at mean low tide, which is set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The waterways were manmade in the late 1940s and early 1950s and are no longer navigable at low tide. The overall project is expected to cost more than $16 million. North Myrtle Beach has spent years examining the impact of dredging channels in and around Cherry Grove’s Ocean Boulevard strip and the center of finger channels along House Creek from 42nd Avenue North to about 62nd Avenue North.

In April, city council created a special tax assessment district to charge property owners who lived along finger channels in Cherry Grove to pay for a planned dredging.

Some of the more than 700 landowners whose properties would be impacted by the dredge have told city officials they would have liked the city to look at alternative ways of funding the project instead of placing the $24,000 tab on landowners over a 10-year period. But city officials forged ahead with the plan to create the assessment district. It argued property owners along the finger channels would benefit most from the work so they should foot the bill.

North Myrtle Beach officials decided in April to postpone the project until fall of 2016, which would mean the dredging work would continue through the early spring of 2017.

Dowling said complaints from many property owners along the mouth of the Z canal at 63rd Avenue North share a central theme, which is, if the dredging occurs, properties that now offer access to the beach at low tide, will no longer be able to do so. Dowling said the upper portion of the Z canal was excluded from any dredging by the Corps because in their assessment it has returned to a marsh-like state.

Jernigan said the dredging would have a financially negative impact on her property, which is opposite of what city officials pitched to property owners the reason for the dredging.

“We rent our property and one of the key factors to our favorable rental income is location and that fact that we have beach access,” she said, adding the dredging would create a ditch near her property that would not allow guests to easily cross to the beach. “However, without the beach access we currently enjoy, our renters would have a five-block walk, or for a golf cart ride, several more blocks for public parking, in order to access the beach. It would significantly decrease our rates, our renter base, our number of bookings, and thus, our income … Proximity and accessibility to the beach have a strong impact on coastal property values. Dredging would take that away.”

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.

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