MOUNT PLEASANT — Federal wildlife agencies are investigating after residents near the Wando River reported that a South Carolina Electric & Gas crew removed an osprey nest from a utility pole, potentially violating the federal Migratory Bird Act.
During the incident last week, a resident frantically yelled, "What are you doing?" as the crew took down the nest, said Lauren Kube, who came out of her home nearby when she saw the crew.
Residents then lit up a private social media network and contacted the Awendaw-based Center for Birds of Prey and state wildlife officials.
"The ospreys were making a lot of noise and seemed confused, flying around where the nest was," Kube said. "The next day I noticed one of them carrying big twigs back to where their nest had been."
After the crew finished, they drove away without explanation, she said.
A Birds of Prey volunteer later inspected the site and found a broken egg on the ground, said Jim Elliott, the center director.
Both the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed a federal investigation is underway. This is the second time in three years — along the same river at nearly the same place — that SCE&G is being investigated.
Fish and Wildlife officers would not comment on an active investigation.
On Monday, an adult osprey sat on the emptied pole making its shrill cry.
"It's like she's lost," said Jeff Winnick, a resident of Rivertowne on the Wando, where the nest has stood on a pole near the entrance for more than a decade.
Paul Fischer, an SCE&G spokesman, would not comment on the incident but said that lines are routinely inspected by crews that adhere to environmental regulations and guidelines.
"We continue to work with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish & Wildlife under their permit programs to manage situations where nesting material prevents routine maintenance and integrity assessments," he said in an email.
"We will continue to meet our obligations to provide electric service to our customers, and we remain committed to the proper care and preservation of the environment and habitat," Fischer said.
Disturbing an active nest is considered a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $15,000.
Ospreys are huge eagle-like white birds with black markings on their wings. They are not an endangered species but are protected under the migratory act. They are among the highest “nest fidelity” birds, or those determined to build in the particular spot they choose.
The annual rearing of fledglings at Rivertowne has delighted the neighborhood people who keep watch.
"That nest has been there for about 15 years," Winnick said.
In 2015, an SCE&G crew removed a nest that an osprey pair was trying to build on a roadside pole almost directly across the river during work on the Wando River bridge. The birds tried to rebuild it for a month before giving up.
After a public outcry, the company built a substitute nest nearby.
The latest problem comes as SCE&G reels from the $9 billion failure of the V.C. Summer nuclear project.