Homeowners, City of North Myrtle Beach dredge up court victory over canals

A long-running dispute over ownership of the canals in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach may be over.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that the state of South Carolina owns the man-made channels. That ruling could lead the way for the city of North Myrtle Beach to dredge them.

Miles of the man-made canals dot the landscape in Cherry Grove, with about 1,100 property owners living along the channels.

Over the years, sediment has built up, making many of the canals impassable by boat except during high tides. Many adjoining property owners are hoping the state Supreme Court ruling will be the final legal hurdle to allow the dredging to begin.

"Aesthetically, it will improve the property and it will also increase the property value over time, which is a bonus for us," said Julie Calhoun, whose family owns a canal-front home.

East Cherry Grove Realty Co. has claimed that it owns the canals. Though two different court rulings have gone against it, the realty company could still try to take its claim to the nation's highest court.

"If they decide not to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal, then we will eventually make an application for a permit to the Corps of Engineers" said city spokesman Pat Dowling. "Under the best case scenario, we see dredging beginning in the fall of 2014."

Dowling said the dredging would cost around $10 million, with the city seeking funding from the state and federal governments, and from a special assessment tax district for the canal property owners.

Homeowners who support the dredging project told NewsChannel 15 they know they would be assessed to help pay for it, but say it would be well worth the cost.

"It'll increase property values, it'll increase enjoyment of the place, there are just so many things about it that'll be positive," said homeowner Tony Craven.

Craven and his wife Delores say they love their home, but can only use their boat on the canal for a couple of hours a day around high tide. Dredging the channel would change that.

"If they go down another 3 or 4 feet, it should be enough water that you can pretty much go in and out when you wanted to," Craven said.

East Cherry Grove Realty has 90 days to appeal the state Supreme Court's decision. NewsChannel 15's attempts to reach the company's attorney, Gene Connell, were unsuccessful.