Dredging controversy rages on in Cherry Grove

Published: Nov. 16, 2010 at 11:16 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2010 at 1:50 PM EST
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Cherry Grove, SC - CHERRY GROVE, SC (WMBF) - A dredging controversy nearly seven years in the making will rage on until 2011, after a battle over ownership rights to a number of channels in Cherry Grove was granted a continuance in court.

The City of North Myrtle Beach submitted a request to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control in 2004 to acquire a permit that would allow for the widening and deepening of canals running along North Ocean Boulevard.

According to DHEC officials, 20 channels in Cherry Grove were requested to be dredged.

Nearly seven years since the original request, plans for the dredging project continue to face controversy and legal issues.

Pat Dowling, spokesman for the City of North Myrtle Beach, said the recent continuance of a lawsuit regarding ownership of the channels has derailed the potential for acquisition of dredging permits until 2011.

Dowling said East Cherry Grove Realty, LLC, filed suit after claiming they had legal title to some of the canals involved in the dredging project. The lawsuit, according to Dowling, claims the group has had ownership of the canals since the 1960s.

The State of South Carolina and the City of North Myrtle Beach both argue the canals are public property and should be maintained through city and state efforts.

"It's important to us and to the State to maintain these channels as waterways, which they were when people bought them," Dowling stated.

Residents like Thomas Knoch say describing the canals as 'waterways' is a far cry from reality, after seeing the dire need for dredging over the last six years. Knoch says the canal in his backyard was a major selling point for the property when he purchased his home in 2004.

"When we did purchase it, we were told the dredging was in the works. It's 2010 and no dredging," he said.

Knoch says the lack of dredging has left nothing but a muddy mess outside of his back door. He says it's not only an eye sore, but smells when the wind blows just right and is a safety concern for visitors who are unfamiliar with what lies underneath the mud.

Knoch says last summer, a boy attempted to jump into the canal off of a neighboring dock and became stuck in the mud. When the boy was able to free himself, Knoch says that's when he realized how dangerous the canal could be.

"When he climbed out with the help of his friend, his feet were blooded up pretty good from the shellfish that were underneath [the mud]," he described.

The Cherry Grove resident says while he understands the legality of the dredging project in his community, he wants to see a resolution to the issue -- and soon.

"I know there's a red tape in bureaucracy that needs go be cut through, but it's just too long," he said. "Everybody's surprised something hasn't been done about this."

Dowling and city officials say a decision regarding the ownership of the channels won't be made until after January.

Dowling said if the city wins the lawsuit and an appeal is filed, the case could move its way to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

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