On Thursday February 20, we set out in Lady C to observe two active Army Corps dredging projects in the Charleston Harbor area (more about dredging activity here). A dense fog forced us to alter our float plan, and instead we stayed close to shore patrolling the lower Cooper River, New Market Creek, and Shipyard Creek.
Our waterways have a rich history far beyond the moment in time we patrol. Oftentimes, as is the case with New Market and Shipyard Creeks, historical land uses in the surrounding watershed impact the water and habitat quality existing today.
In 1772 a powder magazine was built on Shipyard Creek then safely outside the city of Charleston. Around the same time, Captain Cochran’s Shipyard, one of 14 colonial period shipyards, built vessels to engage in trade with Europe. In the early 1900s the A.E. Tuxbury Lumber Mill operated on the banks of Shipyard Creek. In 1941 Pittsburgh Metallurgical Company constructed a ferrochromium alloy smelting plant on Shipyard Creek that operated until 1998. The plant polluted the groundwater, sediment, and soil around the creek with nickel, zinc, and chromium. In 2000 the site was declared an EPA “Superfund” site and scheduled for clean up. Clean up was completed in 2006 and the EPA considers the site “protective of human health and environment.” However, ongoing research by DHEC and DNR rates Shipyard Creek’s habitat quality as “fair” due in part to high contaminate levels in the creek’s sediment.
By the early 1820s the Shipyard Creek powder magazine was in disrepair. A new series of magazines, designed by famed architect Robert Mills, were constructed about 1.5 miles South along New Market Creek. In 1911 the South Carolina General Assembly permitted the Holston Corporation to divert a portion of New Market Creek and construct a pier for importing coal. The Holston property was later converted to a landfill and today an estimated 19 feet of trash is buried in the Holston and Romney Street landfills. Sometime around 1920, the Commissioners of Public Works (now Charleston Water System) constructed an outfall to discharge untreated sewage into New Market Creek. The outfall was used until the Plum Island Treatment Plant (watch the excellent video tour) was completed in the early 1970s. In the late 1980s local residents alerted DHEC water quality problems in New Market Creek. Investigation by DHEC and the City of Charleston revealed high bacteria levels and several improper connections between sanitary sewers and the City’s stormwater drainage system that discharged to New Market Creek. After fixing the improper connections bacteria levels declined but were still considered high.
Today New Market and Shipyard creeks are surrounded by high density urban and industrial development. This especially evident in Shipyard Creek, almost no marsh or natural vegetation is present along its western shore. At time we visited, the Kinder Morgan bulk terminal near the mouth of Shipyard Creek was inactive. New Market Creek is still fringed by marsh, however, its entire northern bank is bordered by the Romney Street Landfill. We observed a large amount of trash at the headwaters of small tributary to New Market Creek near the Romney Street recycling convenience center. The trash was exclusively plastic bottles and bags.
The following map highlights what we observed during our patrol (it’s best viewed using the View in Larger Map link). Click the thumb tacks for pictures.
View February 2014 Patrol in a larger map
We reached out to several key community partners regarding the trash observed near the Romney Street convenience center. We’ll provide an update here as soon as new information is available. In the meantime, we are planning for our March patrol and will have the float plan finalized soon. Follow the action on Facebook and Twitter.