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Feds Deny Marina Expansion

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

In a ruling that could have far reaching effects, the federal agency that oversees SCE&G’s management of the lake has denied a request by Lake Murray Docks to expand its marina located at the rear of Yacht Cove on Lake Murray. Lake Murray Docks wants to add 8 slips to its existing 146-boat-slip marina facility. The proposed new structure would be used by members of the Windward Point Yacht Club.

In its ruling dated February 26, 2014, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) explained its decision. “The existing marina is a pre-existing facility allowed to continue to operate at the site in its present condition, despite its non-conformity with the current Shoreline Management Plan standards. Approving more dock slips in an already over developed cove would only exacerbate the problem of non-compliance with the existing SMP guidelines. Approval of these additional docks would increase the non-conformity of the existing facility and would add additional structures and watercraft to a narrow cove that already has a greater concentration of boat dock facilities than allowed in the existing SMP guidelines. Moreover, although the applicant did consult with South Carolina DNR and FWS it was unable to obtain their approval, as required by the SMP guidelines. In fact, both South Carolina DNR and FWS oppose the proposed dock expansion.”

The Commission questioned why SCE&G did not reject the application from the onset noting several deficiencies in Lake Murray Dock’s permit application. “SCE&G claims it neither supports nor objects to the proposed dock and only performs the administrative function of filing a properly drafted application”. The Commission indicated that “the permit application did not include a variance request nor identify any extenuating circumstances of why a variance of the requirements should be granted to allow the proposal.” In addition, the applicant did not get approval from resource agencies as required by the existing SMP. Given this information, the licensee should have initially denied the applicant’s request based on the above SMP provisions and its license obligations. Under these circumstances, it is not clear why the licensee saw fit to submit an application to the Commission that is, on its face, deficient and perhaps patently so.”

In conclusion FERC stated, While the specific proposal appears to have minimal environmental impacts, it would expand the marina’s facility’s current non-conformity and, at the same time, result in a further reduction in the available surface area of Yacht Cove for public recreational opportunities. The current marina facility is allowed as a grandfathered use under the approved SMP, and the application does not adequately justify further expansion of the facility. For these reasons, we find that approval of the proposal is not in the public interest and the application should be denied.”

The ruling no doubt will set a precedent that might affect other grandfathered-in facilities looking for ways to accommodate the growing demand for slip rentals, and other  amenities that marinas offer. During SCE&G’s relicensing process, there was strong consensus among stakeholders to make sure existing facilities have the tools necessary to stay in business, thus reducing the need to construct additional “mega” facilities which can have devastating effects on the environment and neighboring communities.  

Jim Leslie, owner of Lake Murray Docks, believes there is a growing number of large boats on the lake and his proposed plan would help by providing accommodations for boats up to 34’.  He said he is studying the ruling and so far questions the FERC’s interpretation of certain shoreline regulations, noting his application was approved by both SC DHEC and the US Army Corp of Engineers. Furthermore, SCE&G told FERC that the proposed dock addition is not inconsistent with overall project purposes, including recreation, and would not conflict with any natural, historic, or scenic values or resources of the project. The ruling stated that SCE&G agreed with applicant's projection of minimal impact.

Commentary- Lake Watch concurs with SCE&G’s evaluation that the proposed expansion would have minimal impacts. Lake Watch believes it is necessary and in the public’s best interest to accommodate the needs of our existing public marinas as best we can.  We cannot nitpick them out of business. But, the marina owner ultimately bares the burden to prove that the public benefits resulting from a proposed project (expansion in this case) clearly outweigh any potential negative impacts. For marina owners who are in compliance, and are requesting to expand beyond their existing permit limitations, the same applies. Simply complying with setbacks is no longer good enough. In this case, it appears that without a request for variance or extenuating circumstances that show great public benefits, FERC denied the request. Lake Murray Docks has 30 days to request a rehearing.  Steve Bell is President of Lake Murray Watch, a signatory of SCE&G’s new license, and owns Lake Murray

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