North Myrtle Beach Dredging Project

Rental homes on the Saltwater Channels are Popular Beach Vacation Choices.

North Myrtle Beach stretches from Windy Hill on the south end up to the Cherry Grove Inlet with its scenic salt marsh and winding creeks. Just off the inlet and marsh are scores of man-made saltwater channels in between many of the avenues of Cherry Grove. Along each side of these channels, you’ll find a wide variety of waterfront residential and vacation homes. Century 21 Thomas Beach Vacations and a few other local vacation rental companies offer dozens of these comfortable cottages as vacation rental selections for families, golfers and friends. Over time, these channels accumulate silt and marsh grasses, requiring periodic cleaning or dredging.

Progress is ongoing to overcome the dredging challenges for the Cherry Grove channels. Some of the channels are no longer navigable and are in real need of dredging now. City Councilman Hank Thomas passed along some good news to us recently concerning problems and progress being made to overcome those difficulties. As the owner of Century 21 Thomas Beach Vacations and Real Estate Sales, Mr. Thomas is well aware of the necessity of keeping these channels clear and open.

North Myrtle Beach continues to pursue this badly needed dredging project for the channels. Before the project can begin, the city needs to obtain two critical and difficult permits: a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a permit from S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). A earlier permit was obtained from DHEC for the dredging project in June, 2009. That permit was the result an application submitted in 2004 and has very restrictive guidelines such as staying 10 feet from all marsh grass and shell fish in the dredge path. The issuance of the permit was delayed 5 years from date of application during which time the conditions in the channels changed substantially. An addition 8 to 16 inches of silt has accumulated and substantial encroachment of marsh grasses and oysters have negatively impacted the potential benefits of the issued permit. These encroachments are so severe that only an approximate 40% of the dredging would be in compliance with the DHEC permit restrictions.

A bright spot in the process is that DHEC and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have acknowledged that a permit to relocate shell fish out of the dredge path is possible. This is a major positive move in the dredge process. The next big challenge the city faces is dealing with the various agencies on the marsh grass issue. The city of North Myrtle Beach is determined to continue to move forward on this very complicated task.

There are two major issues delaying the dredging: (1) environmental and (2) ownership. East Cherry Grove Realty, LLC has claimed ownership of the channels that the city hopes to dredge. However, the State of South Carolina also claims ownership, based on a quit-claim deed it received in 1969 from Mr. C.D. Nixon, the former owner of East Cherry Grove Realty. The parties have been unable to resolve their conflicting claims leaving the issue of ownership in litigation.

On February 1, 2010, Judge Larry Hyman heard motions for summary judgment from both North Myrtle Beach and East Cherry Grove Realty. He denied both motions, basing the decision on the premise that the deeds were ambiguous in some respects and that the ambiguity presented a question of fact. Judge Hyman’s comments indicated a lesser regard of East Cherry Grove Realty’s position and even said that he knew how he would rule if he were sitting on the jury. Although he didn’t actually express exactly how he would vote, it seemed clear that Judge Hyman regarded the City’s argument as the better and that the canals were indeed owned by the State of South Carolina.

The impact of Judge Hyman’s decision that the deeds were ambiguous will allow the parties to introduce evidence of intent in the deeds. The City has contacted Ed Latimer who was with the SC Attorney General’s office in 1969 and who participated directly in the settlement negotiations with C.D. Nixon that year. Mr. Latimer was sent copies of the pertinent quit-claim deeds along with a copy of C.B. Berry’s plat that was referenced in the deeds. In a follow-up telephone conversation, Mr. Latimer indicated remembering the matter and recalling that the intent of both parties was that ownership of the canals in East Cherry Grove below the mean high water mark were vested with the State of South Carolina. Mr. Latimer’s deposition will be taken as soon as it is scheduled with the parties and their attorneys. The City’s position is based on the merits of its argument that South Carolina has title to the canals below the mean high water mark and has gained strength.

Judge Culbertson has ordered that the case be put on the trial roster for the first term of court in June, 2010. If North Myrtle Beach succeeds at trial, East Cherry Grove Realty may appeal. North Myrtle Beach has the option to petition for an expedited appeal; however, an appeal could add a year or more to the process. Century 21 Thomas joins with the City of North Myrtle Beach hoping for a speedy resolution and that the channels will all be cleared very soon.

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