MOUNT PLEASANT — After more than three years of anticipation, pipes have been moved into place and pumping is scheduled to begin on Sept. 14, kicking off the Crab Bank renourishment project in Charleston Harbor.
At its peak, the seabird sanctuary was home to nearly 4,000 nesting birds on 18 acres of high ground. But much of it has eroded because of weather and tides, and the site is no longer being used by the animals.
Contractors will use about 660,000 cubic yards of sediment from the harbor-deepening project to renourish Crab Bank and ultimately create about 32 acres of prime nesting habitat for coastal birds.
The Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District said boaters and paddlers in the area of Shem Creek and the Mount Pleasant Old Village shoreline will need to take extra precautions while the project is ongoing.
It should take about two months to complete but the dredging operation comes with some safety concerns. In addition to the dredge, there will be floating and submerged pipelines, along with auxiliary equipment that is hazardous to people who get too close to the construction zone, the Corps said in a news release.
And it is possible that construction will happen continuously, all hours of the day and night until complete.
People should not assume there will be any down time during the project, where they can "sneak over" and take a look at the work, said Brian Williams, the the Corps' Charleston District civil works chief.
"Even if you don't see something coming out of the end of the pipe, it could start back up any second," Williams said.
Temporary disturbances from the lights and sounds could also be present for the duration of the work. People along the Mount Pleasant shoreline could potentially be impacted by this.
"We are hoping and we think it will all be worth it when we've got a restored Crab Bank and really another jewel sitting in the Charleston Harbor for people to enjoy," Williams said.
At the beginning of the year, the Army Corps said it was projected to cost about $300,000 to place the material on Crab Bank.
Corporations such as The Post and Courier Foundation, Boeing S.C. and the S.C. Ports Authority, as well as hundreds of Charleston-area residents, have contributed more than $1 million to the project. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources, a project sponsor, funded approximately $80,000 of the cost.
"Communication, fundraising and awareness have been key to the success that we hope to see this spring as birds return to the newly established footprint of Crab Bank," said DNR Director Robert Boyles.
He said the project would not have been possible without community support and assistance from groups like Audubon South Carolina, the Coastal Conservation League, Coastal Expeditions and other donors.
Audubon South Carolina received a $700,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that will assist with the restoration and monitoring of the project.
Leftover contributions will be used for building oyster reefs and adding sea grasses meant to hold renourished sand in place.