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Action necessary to fight silting in Georgetown waterfront, engineer says

Tom Hutto

Posted on June 15, 2022

An initial dredging of Georgetown’s Inner Harbor is necessary to maintain the harbor’s present usage, Senior Project Manager Tom Hutto of GEL Engineering said June 14.

That was one of the findings presented by Hutto at a community meeting at Howard Auditorium. The meeting was the culmination of years of work that began with the city of Georgetown and Georgetown County engaging Coastal Carolina University in 2018 to study engineering solutions regarding silting in the Inner Harbor. The Inner Harbor was last dredged in 2006.

Hutto also told concerned residents that silting is already causing issues with area marinas, and that relief is needed for Georgetown’s current and future boating needs. Barge traffic on the Sampit River up to the U.S. Highway 17 bridge would take little to no dredging, he said, but closing of a shortcut into the harbor near Goat Island would be necessary to significantly reduce siltation of the Inner Harbor behind Front Street.

“If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose some of this business,” Hutto said. “And I’ve lived on the coast and been on the water my whole life, and I work for waterfront people, whether people from Hilton Head, all the big industry in Charleston — we work for every large industrial site, pretty much, in coastal South Carolina.”

Conventional dredging of the east and west channels on either side of Goat Island would cost $2.75 million and $1.7 million, respectively, according to Hutto’s estimates. Shrimp boats, small to midsize boats and yachts and sailboats were among the common harbor users that he listed in his presentation.

At the top of the meeting, Tiffany Harrison, county economic development director, made clear that Hutto’s presentation would be dealing with Georgetown’s Inner Harbor rather than nearby Liberty Steel or the city’s South Carolina Ports Authority property.

“There will be lots of discussions about both of those, I think, in the future,” Harrison said. “But this is for a specific project that was kicked off more than four years ago.”

Hutto still received questions about effects dredging would have on the steel mill, but he noted that these were outside of his expertise. He said his forecasting and recommendations would be the same whether the mill was in operation or not.

Some of Hutto’s modeling focused on a potential closure of the harbor’s shortcut just southwest of Goat Island. According to the model, a slight closure of the shortcut using a single deflection wall would increase sediment by 33 percent in the Inner Harbor loop.

A more complete closure using two contraction dikes would reduce sediment by 55 percent.

A complete closure of the shortcut would reduce sediment by 85 percent. However, Hutto noted that constructing a wall to accommodate a full closure is no small feat.

“If you do that, you close the Sampit River, so that has its own issues,” Hutto said. “And you would have to really study that, look at what does it cause, and it would be a long-term undertaking.”


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