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A public meeting was held last week by DHEC/OCRM to hear opinions related to the proposed expansion of the Charleston City Marina’s Mega-Dock in the Ashley River. The City Marina has requested a permit to “relocate and modify the existing marina, realign the centerline of the functioning navigational channel, reconfigure an existing mooring field, and add new bridge fenders on the James Island Expressway Bridge in the Ashley River.”

The proposed project essentially involves adding about 136 new slips, many ranging in size from 60 to 80 feet, primarily to accommodate large vessels like yachts. This work will require the relocation the existing transient dock ~150 feet towards the navigational channel in the Ashley River, and relocating the adjacent public mooring field.

A representative from Charleston Waterkeeper was among the roughly 75 in attendance. Only 14 stepped up to express their opinion on the project: 7 opposed, 6 supported, 1 was neutral (the Coastal Conservation League).

The large majority of statements in favor of the project were based on the expected economic benefits resulting from the mega dock expansion. One yacht manager listed weekly expenses incurred by his mega yacht and 25 man crew (including $30k in fuel). Several supporters had businesses based around marina services, or were owners or managers of large yachts themselves. A representative from the Charleston Business Bureau cited water access as one of the top five attractions for tourism in Charleston. One supporter said that the Beach Co. has an excellent environmental track record, and will do a good job on the project.

The opposing statements made quite a variety of points, ranging from infringing on the existing channel, further impedance of sediment transport in the Ashley, contaminated sediment, the failure of City Marina to maintain their existing facilities and dredging while wanting to expand further, the lack of public boat ramps and water access near downtown, actual demand for more dock space by ‘mega yachts,’ concerns about the average citizen having meaningful access to the “City” marina (high parking fees, no ramps, poor dredging etc.), congestion problems in the new channel, reduced quality of the overall boating experience, reduction of anchorage space in the existing mooring area, blocking of scenic views of the Ashley, concerns of increased sewage discharge in the already impaired Ashley River, and further limiting access to the Charleston Yacht Club (next door).

While expressing concerns about the environmental impacts, Nancy Vinson of the CCL said that it “was an appropriate area to expand,” compared to more sensitive estuarine areas further upriver, or in small creeks, etc.

The meeting was civil and only lasted about 45 minutes. Tess Trumball, project manager for DHEC/OCRM moderated.

Post by Andy Lassiter – As a candidate for his Masters Degree, Andy is finishing up at the College of Charleston’s Masters of Environmental Studies Program.  He has been helping Charleston Waterkeeper as an intern with an ongoing study to test the impacts of copper and copper-based bottom paints on Charleston’s waterways.

Charleston Waterkeeper will be submitting official comments to DHEC and to City Marina before the comment period ends on March 5, 2010. The comments will include a list of recommendations to both parties to assure the highest level of environmental consideration and protection. We will post these recommendations as soon as we complete them.