Originally created 11/27/03

State fines dredging group nearly $494,000



HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- A dredging group has been fined $494,000 after state environmental officials say it dumped dredge spoil into the Calibogue Sound instead of a designated offshore dump site.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control says the South Island Dredging Association committed the violations while clearing the Sea Pines marinas and waterways in the spring. Federal officials are conducting a criminal investigation into the alleged violations.

About 75 percent of the muck dredged from the marinas and waterways ended up in the Calibogue Sound instead of at a dump site near the mouth of Port Royal, said Richard Chinnis, director of regulatory programs for the state's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. But, the number is not exact because a log that the group was required by its federal permit to keep was incomplete, he said.

The state levied fines for each instance in the log where the association reported very little dredging spoil disposed at the dump site and when the group dredged more muck than could be transported at one time to the site, Chinnis said.

In all, the DHEC's ocean management division found 44 violations and issued a maximum fine of $1,000 for each. The state Bureau of Water levied a maximum fine of $10,000 for each violation, plus $10,000 for an additional violation of a water quality regulation.

The state issued the maximum fines because the group departed significantly from rules set by state and federal permits, creating "major potential for harm to the environment," said Robin Foy, water enforcement manager for the Bureau of Water.

The dredging association will likely appeal the fines, said Stan Barnett, an attorney for the group. Dredging officials have denied that the work done between February and May violated state or federal permits. South Island has until early December to file an appeal with the state's Administrative Law Judge Division, DHEC said. Otherwise, the fine is due by late December.

The group has already filed a lawsuit in state court asking a judge to determine whether the group violated its permit. South Island filed the lawsuit after DHEC proposed fining the association several months ago, Barnett said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has turned its investigation over to the Army Criminal Investigation Division, said Alicia Gregory, spokeswoman for the Army Corps.