Mayors from McClellanville to Charleston have joined a Charleston County effort to fix the ailing Intracoastal Waterway.
"They have all signed on," County Councilman Dickie Schweers said. Mayors from Awendaw, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island and Mount Pleasant are on board, he said.
Barges, tugs and recreational vessels ply the waterway, which is impassable in spots at low tide and in need of dredging, he said. Ideally the waterway is 12 feet deep, but only a foot of water can be found in some areas when the tide is out.
"People run aground routinely," Schweers said.
The waterway is in particularly bad shape at Breach Inlet between Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island and at McClellanville.
"It's a crisis situation here," McClellanville Mayor Rutledge Leland said.
Some 30 shrimp and fish boats are moored there. "They're about to the point where they can't go to work," Leland said.
Leland said Schweers contacted him about appearing before County Council next month to discuss the problem.
Schweers estimated that a minimum of $1 million is needed to dredge the problem areas, but none of the municipalities have committed money for the work. The Army Corps of Engineers has the permit and contacts to get the work done but it also does not have the necessary federal funding, he said.
The accommodations tax and the transportation sales tax are potential sources of revenue for fixing the waterway, Schweers said. "This a transportation corridor," he said.
Schweers hopes to leverage local interest in maintaining the waterway into getting help from the state. The federal government has indicated it will take no action, he said.
Schweers told County Council on Tuesday that a lot of recreational vessels use the waterway.
County Councilman Vic Rawl said at the meeting that the area's congressional delegation should be encouraged to attend a Council meeting to discuss the condition of the waterway.
There have been navigation issues in other sections of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which extends 1,200 miles between Norfolk, Va., and Key West, Fla. In addition to serving as a passageway for recreational boaters and commerce, it is home to ports, Coast Guard bases and a dozen military facilities, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Of the Atlantic states, South Carolina ranks last when it comes to federal funding for waterway dredging, which has not happened here in the past few years, said Brad Pickel, executive director of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association.
"We have areas in every state along the waterway that need maintenance, from Virginia to Florida," he said. "Most of the areas are in the vicinity of inlets."
Some states, such as Florida and North Carolina, have dedicated funding for waterway maintenance. The Florida Inland Navigation District collects about $20 million annually to pay for waterway maintenance in 12 counties, said Mark Crosley, the district executive director.
"Anybody who has property in Florida pretty much pays into that tax stream," he said.
About half of the organization's budget goes to the Army Corps of Engineers for dredging. The rest is used as matching funds for communities that are building waterfront improvements such as parks, piers and boat ramps, he said.
North Carolina funds waterway maintenance through voter registration fees and the gas tax, Crosley said.
A well-kept waterway has billions of dollars in economic benefit, he said.
"Even if you don't boat," he said, "the homes have increased value because they are on the waterway."
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711
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