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A pelican flies across the water off Crab Bank on Friday, August 10, 2018. Over the past quarter-century, more than 18 acres of land where shorebirds would nest has washed away. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

Moving Crab Bank could come down to just who wants to do it.

Mount Pleasant officials are trying to win the backing of conservation groups involved in renourishing the critical, disappearing shorebird rookery.

But despite the pleas, the groups say wait and see.

The town recently submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a study calling for re-positioning Crab Bank closer to the mouth of Charleston Harbor from where the Army Corps has proposed to renourish it.

The goal is to keep erosion from the renourishment soils from silting nearby Shem Creek.

The town's study also found the renourished bank could be bigger than the Army Corps proposed and would last longer against ship wake and storm erosion.

The Army Corps is analyzing the town's study and is also completing its own final study. The agency plans to release a comparison by Feb. 25.

"The Charleston District is focused on a plan that uses the best and most complete science and engineering to balance the needs of bird habitat and federal channel use around Crab Bank," Corps spokeswoman Glenn Jeffries said.

"We will not move forward before first discussing the comparison of both (Army Corps and town) models with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the Town of Mount Pleasant," she said.

Crab Bank move (copy)

Before deciding whether to support the town's proposal, the coalition of six conservation groups pushing for the renourishment want to see what the Army Corps says.

"We are appreciative of Mount Pleasant's thorough review and support for the island’s restoration. We will review results of both studies once available and expect the engineering experts to ensure best placement of sand to benefit Shem Creek and the birds," said Caitie Forde-Smith, spokeswoman for the Coastal Conservation League.

Sharon Richardson, director of South Carolina Audubon, which won the federal grant that will pay for the $1.4 million renourishment project, said it would be premature to comment "until we see the best available science," based on the Army Corps review of the Mount Pleasant study.

The Crab Bank rookery was once an eye-catching crowd of shorebirds nesting by the hundreds in the harbor, close to the Mount Pleasant side. It was considered a critical mid-state link among a handful of publicly owned and protected rookery islands in South Carolina for threatened species of shorebirds.

But over the past 25 years, erosion from the seas, storms and ship wakes have reduced it in size from more than 18 acres of nesting high ground to less than one acre.

Shem Creek is Mount Pleasant's iconic fishing dock hub, tourist destination, restaurant row and residential area. Many of the boaters who go to see the rookery launch from the creek. The environs are valuable enough that the town committed $100,000 for the study. The creek mouth near Crab Bank has been plagued by silting.

Town officials aren't discouraged by the groups' hesitation, convinced they have what Mayor Will Haynie called a win-win for everyone involved.

"We have a concern that the conservation groups don't have because of their mission," Haynie said. But the town's plan provides for a more viable rookery and a more functional Shem Creek, he said.

Town Councilman Jim Owens, who has taken the lead talking with groups, characterized it as doing what's necessary to protect the town's interests.

"By the end of the day, I hope we'll all be on the same page. We all want the same thing," he said. 

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Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.