Coming Saturday

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is an industrial highway for barges and a route for pleasure boaters. In the Lowcountry, it has fallen into disrepair because of a lack of funds for dredging. Read more about the problem, its effects and the future of the vital artery.

Commercial and passenger vessels traveling through Charleston County hit bottom at low tide in the Intracoastal Waterway because the channel is not dredged properly, County Council was told Thursday.

In response, the Council voted to spend $500,000 over the next two budget years, but only if the state and federal governments match the local money with "substantial funds."

Fixing the shoaling problem will cost millions of dollars, officials said.

Councilman Dickie Schweers of McClellanville said the county funds would be used to leverage more government dollars for waterway maintenance.

"It's more or less symbolic," he said of the council appropriation.

The worst problems can be found in Jeremy Creek at McClellanville and at Breach Inlet near Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island, officials said.

More than $3 million is needed to dredge the waterway channel at McClellanville so that the biggest shrimp trawlers and passenger vessels can ply its waters at low tide, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

About $2 million is needed to make the channel at Breach Inlet passable at low tide for barges and large recreational vessels, the Corps said.

There is $500,000 in the president's new budget for local waterway work, including design of new dredging projects, said David Warren, the Corps Charleston District civil works project manager.

County Councilman Elliott Summey said his boat hit a sandbar in the waterway two weeks ago. He noted that tourists spend at local marinas, but they are less inclined to return here if they encounter such problems.

The waterway, which runs from Virginia to Florida, was last dredged in South Carolina in 2010. Army Corps dredging happens more frequently in North Carolina and Florida which designate state tax money to maintain the channel.

The authorized depth of the waterway is 12 feet at mean low tide, but it is only three-to-four feet at some places in the county. That limits traffic to shallow draft, smaller boats. Larger vessels are forced to wait until high tide.