JAMES ISLAND—Bushel bags of oyster shells were planted two years ago along the eroding bank of Plymouth Park to help restore the oyster beds that once held the bank in place. The odd, middle-of-the-city restoration project failed, miserably.
Dirt and sand from the rapidly eroding bank buried the bags. Today, only one concrete bench remains of the three that were set by the city of Charleston along the bank; the other two have fallen in. Erosion is chewing a gaping hole that isn't far from taking out the playground.
The city has won a $750,000 federal stimulus grant to put it all back together again.
The money will also pay for erosion control, marsh and oyster bed restoration along the West Ashley Greenway and on Daniel Island.
Plymouth Park sits right along the Wappoo Cut of the Intracoastal Waterway in Riverland Terrace neighborhood. The cut is a channel of swift-moving tide runs and speeding motorboats. The erosion from tide and wakes is so bad that the neighborhood properties are now protected by embankments.
"The current just rips through here," said Matt Compton, city deputy parks director. "If you come out here, on a Saturday particularly, you can see those big boats running; they're ignoring the no wake zone. All the marsh mud is gone."
The grant will pay to set a granite rock "sill," essentially a low-piled breakwater that lets tide in and out but takes the beating of current and wake. Behind it, 5,000 square feet of marsh will be restored and more oyster beds planted. Some of the eroded bank will be filled.
On Daniel Island, another 5,000 square feet of marsh will be restored on an eroding bank of the island bike trail along the Wando River. The trial is part of a network of city trails.
On the greenway, erosion controls will put in along the collapsing causeway on the John's Island side of the Stono River, a popular fishing spot known as "Three Pipes." Some marsh acres will be restored, and new breakwater cuts will be made to allow tides to revitalize other struggling marsh.
All the sites are city-owned or leased. Local contractors and suppliers within the state will be hired for the work, fulfilling a grant goal of helping to ramp up the local economy.
The grant is one among 50 "shovel ready" projects across the country that were awarded $3 billion in grants; more than 800 projects applied for the grants, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said. The projects are mostly small scale coastal restoration efforts, tiny stabs at stemming a net loss of 360,000 coastal wetland acres per year in the eastern United States that includes nearly 15,000 acres in six years on the Atlantic coast, according to a federal report issued earlier this year.
Wetlands are critical for water quality and habitat for fish, shellfish and migratory birds. The loss is blamed largely on coastal development. In total, the projects would restore 8,900 acres of habitat.
The restoration effort "is later than we'd like and less than we would like," conceded NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, answering a question during a teleconference.
"We've got people here fishing, and if they weren't catching anything they wouldn't be fishing. We've got people here playing. This is something that's going to benefit the community long term," Compton said as he looked around Plymouth Park.
"Oh, I love it. When's the work going to start?" asked Larry Speed, of West Ashley, as his daughter reeled in a dogfish at the park. The erosion has been so bad that when he and his wife Karen Speed come out to fish, they keep snagging on the bottom. "We used to have spots where we could throw (a cast) and not get caught."
The work is scheduled to start and finish in spring 2010.