An unusual creature is in Shem Creek-it’s green and orange, it’s loud, belches smoke and has a five mile long tail. No, it is not a prehistoric sea creature, just the sixteen inch diameter cutter head dredge Richmond doing its job for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District. The dredge Richmond is 130 feet long, 28 feet wide and has more than 2,000 horsepower of pump and generators installed.
Shem Creek is part of the overall Charleston Harbor project. The Shem Creek portion of the project starts at the end of Sullivan’s Island and runs through Mount Pleasant Channel and makes a right turn into Shem Creek at Haddrells Point and ends at the Coleman Boulevard bridge. The channel is 90 feet wide and dredged to 12 feet deep.
Shem Creek is one of the most popular recreational and commercial boating spots in Charleston, so why dredge it?
Shem Creek supports the last commercial shrimp and fishing fleets in Charleston Harbor, and, right now, fleets could only get safely out of the creek at high tide. With a freshly dredged creek, the shrimp trawlers and fishing vessels will once again be able to safely enter and leave at all tides.
This dredging comes at the perfect time. With the shrimping industry at an all time low and on the verge of extinction due to several years of severe weather, the hurdle of having to wait for high tide to enter and exit the creek has been eliminated. Should this industry disappear, it would have disastrous effects on the small fishing and shrimping community that surrounds the creek; most of its members have spent their entire lives shrimping. Once the dredging is complete, shrimpers and fishermen will be free to come and go as they need, which will help them keep their businesses afloat.
The ground work for construction of this project began in 2013 with the preparation of the disposal area at Morris Island. The disposal area was thoroughly cleaned and the dikes repaired to accept dredged material from both Shem Creek and the anchorage basin in Charleston Harbor. The District anticipates removing approximately 160,000 cubic yards of dredged material from Shem Creek and 400,000 CY of dredged material from the anchorage.
Life in Shem Creek has dramatically changed since it was last dredged in 2005. In the last 10 years, daily activity in the creek has increased ten-fold. Kayaks, paddle boards and recreational boaters are visible everyday and since safety is the District’s number one priority, a public awareness campaign was started in December by disseminating fliers to businesses and homes along the creek. The District also did several media interviews, ran newspaper ads and briefed Mount Pleasant town council on the project.
"This is a precision dredging project that requires a lot of public cooperation to ensure that vessels are not in the way of the dredge because there is so little room to maneuver with the channel being so narrow," said Lisa Metheney, Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management.
Soon the green and orange machine with the five mile long tail will slowly back its way out of the creek leaving it in better shape than it found it and disappear out into the harbor to begin the second part of the journey to the anchorage, which was last dredged in 1993.