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Floating Excavator Vital in Swamp Restoration Project

Tue March 11, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

A lone amphibious excavator is floating amid the Pocotaligo Swamp in an effort to restore its natural flow.

A three-man crew from Garcia Forest Service LLC in Rockingham, N.C., is removing debris from two 15-mi. (24 km) long natural channels between the confluence of Turkey Creek and the Pocotaligo River near Sumter, S.C., and the Highway 301 bridge near Manning, S.C. The restoration of the 20-ft.-wide (6 m) and 2-ft.-deep (0.6 m) channels will allow approximately 5,800 acres to return to a forested swamp that normally dries up for part of the year.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Jimmy Hadden said a number of factors led to the clogged channels in the swamp, including antiquated logging practices in the 1950s and the impact of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

The effort should create an environment that will allow natural vegetation to return, such as water tupelo and bald cypress.

Hadden said the soil and conservation districts in Sumter and Clarendon counties are assisting the Garcia crew in locating the natural channels.

“If we move outside the natural flow area, we’re going to be digging rather than clearing,” Hadden said.

The project is funded through mid-June, at which point all of one channel and half of the other should be cleared. Corps officials expect to receive funding for the remaining portion of the channel, which would take the work through to July 1. However, if money runs out, crews would divert the unfinished channel into the fully cleared channel so one does not reach a dead end.

The excavator operator is placing the material from the channel — mostly fallen trees — along the banks in piles staggered on either side. Hadden said keeping the material on site kept the cost lower and reduces the amount of sedimentation that is disturbed. Additionally, the piles are expected to become wildlife habitat.

Hadden said the excavator operator cannot operate in water that’s too deep, as he loses leverage needed to pick up large pieces of debris.

The crew must cross a two-lane road, Highway 301 and Interstate 95 as it travels down the channel. Crossing the larger highways may require the crew to demobilize the machine and put it back together on the opposite side, Hadden said. However, if they’re able to maintain safety and coordinate with the highway patrol, the excavator may cross the highways intact.

Swamp supporters organized the Pocotaligo Swamp Reclamation Committee in 1988. The project had been swamped with problems obtaining federal funding. In May 2006, funding was allocated, but by the time the Corps worked out agreements with surrounding landowners, it was rescinded. But this year, the cost of this $370,000 portion of the project is being funded through a 65-35 percent match between the federal government and area sponsors.

“We all feel good about leaving this place a little better than we found it and this project is a big step in that direction,” said Vicky Howell, chairwoman of the reclamation committee.

This is the first project in South Carolina to fall under the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes the Corps to undertake projects to improve the quality of the environment, is in the public interest and is cost-effective.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. CEG

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