State regulators have given the green light to reconfiguring the Charleston City Marina so its footprint juts 140 feet farther into the Ashley River.
The decision was cheered by the marina's management company, which has sought the permit for eight years, in part to compensate for the loss of at least 40 slips due to silting near the shore.
It was not greeted as gladly by those concerned that shifting the channel west will move boat traffic too close to a mooring field on the river's opposite side.
Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson said Thursday she is not sure if the city, which owns the marina and leases it to The Beach Co., still has a say in its expansion, but she intends to find out.
"I'd be curious to know why they have chosen not to dredge and have chosen to expand out farther into the river channel," she said. "I know dredging is expensive and there are other concerns. I'd be curious to hear the Beach Company's reasoning."
Marvin Pontiff of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource
Management -- which issued the permit -- said the City Marina Co. didn't request any dredging.
But he also said the coastal management program doesn't recommend it unless it can be done without environmental harm.
He noted this area of the Ashley River has a history of bottom contamination and regulatory agencies prefer not to dredge silt in these areas, particularly if a marina can be extended into the river with minimal impact on navigation.
Robbie Freeman, managing partner of The City Marina Co., said the channel will remain 300 feet in width, and the changes should encourage boaters to slow down and respect the area's No-Wake Zone.
"It's a big wide river, and there's plenty of room for everybody to do what they need to do," he said.
The state issued the permit subject to 30 special conditions, including approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard. The company also must comply with 10 other special conditions to address water quality concerns, nearby shellfish beds and wetlands.
Pontiff said the number of conditions is not unusual with this type of permit.
While the permit is in hand, Freeman said work will not begin anytime soon on the $5 million to $7 million project.
"In the current boating economy, you probably won't see anything for at least three years," he said. "The boating industry has been hit pretty hard."
However, Freeman said work likely will begin by 2014 because the permit is good for only five years. And the City Marina had to turn boats away as recently as last fall because of a lack of slips, he added. About one-third of its slips are occupied by boaters passing through the Lowcountry.
Once completed, the marina's new layout will extend 140 feet farther into the river, but it will lose about 300 to 400 feet in length -- essentially becoming less rectangular in shape.
Freeman said the permission to shift the channel west recognizes the changing nature of the Ashley River.
"It has transitioned from being a commercial river," he said. "It's really the prime recreational river feeding into Charleston Harbor now."
The City Marina first was created in 1960, and The Beach Co. took over its management from the city in 1994 and installed a megadock there in 2003.
"It has been around for 50 years," Freeman said. "This new layout will ensure it lasts another 50 years."
The City Marina Co. still must get approval from federal regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which were waiting for state regulators to act first.
The company then must decide when to begin work. It might wait a few years until the economy (and demand for boat slips) recovers.
The work is expected to be finished by 2016 because it is a five-year permit.