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BOLIVIA—The path to dredging the Shallotte River may be as winding as the river itself.
County planning-board members and others took the first step Monday by requesting county commissioners form a dredging task force.
Walter Wright, president of the Riverview Property Owners Association, spoke to the planning board at the recommendation of county commissioners Pat Sykes and Marty Cooke.
Sykes and Cooke attended a February meeting of concerned citizens who complained that too much of the Shallotte River has been closed off from oyster harvesting.
In September 2012, the Division of Marine Fisheries closed areas of the Shallotte River to oyster, clam and mussel harvesting, including the Shallotte River north and east of Shell Point, everything upstream of Saucepan Creek, and in spots along the Intracoastal Waterway around Holden Beach.
Wright told planning board members concerned citizens were told at the February meeting fecal-matter contamination due to water runoff from roads, parking lots and graded lots led to river closures.
But he added constant buildup of muck and silt in the river covers oyster beds, clogs channels and reduces the water depth.
While hundreds of millions of dollars in grants are set aside for wetland and stream restoration, none has been spent on the Shallotte River, Wright said.
He said the closures are hurting Brunswick County fisherman.
“Just from oysters alone, we are looking at an annual loss of $1.5 to $2 million. This is based on five bushels per day at $35 per bushel for a 150-day season, times 75 fishermen and women,” Wright said.
Wright said Brunswick County does not have an agency or individual to advocate or coordinate for restoring rivers and streams.
“We need your assistance,” he said.
Planning board chairman Alan Lewis said the difficulty in dredging the Shallotte River is funding.
Lewis said the way federal grant money is dispersed for dredging is based on tonnage of goods that travel a waterway or port, which puts the Shallotte River at a severe disadvantage when pursuing grants.
“There is not tonnage coming out of (the Shallotte River), just local fishermen,” Lewis said. “Until we figure out a way to get money out of Congress, the situation will get worse and worse.”
Lewis said the county should create a task force to look at the issue. He recommended involving staff from the planning, environmental-health and engineering departments.
Planning board members Steve Candler and Denny Jordan proposed the planning board send a request to the county commissioners to form a task force.
“To see if they can come up with some answer and find out if grant money is available,” Candler said.
The planning board didn’t vote on the task-force request, but Lewis asked planning staff to create a properly worded request to review at the April planning board meeting before sending it to county commissioners.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or email@example.com.