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Broken pilings from a recently dismantled railroad trestle are still protruding from the Whale Branch River, and members of Beaufort County Water Search and Rescue say they are a hazard to boaters.
The trestle was part of the dormant Port Royal Railroad line that is being removed by Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority.
John Smith, a Water Search and Rescue member who lives on neighboring property and investigates boat accidents for a living, said the pilings are submerged at high tide.
"My fear is that someone is going to run into them," Smith said. "We're the ones who will have to go out there and do the rescue when someone tears up their vessel on those things."
Utility spokesman Matthew Brady said crews will return to the site and remove the pilings by mid-February.
The old railroad track is being taken apart by D M Enterprises, but a subcontractor, Ray Kenston Metals, was hired to tear down the trestle, Brady said.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control did not authorize the work, according to Dan Burger, an official with the department's Ocean & Coastal Resource Management Office.
The contractors should have gotten a permit from the department, which is required for projects such as bridge demolition, Burger said.
"The overall situation is being evaluated as it just recently came to the department's attention," Burger said. "We have gained assurance from (BJWSA) that they will have the pilings removed as immediately as possible."
Burger said there will be follow-ups by site inspectors to assure the work is completed.
In the meantime, boaters will have to be careful since no signs will warn them of the navigational hazard, skipper Nick Russell of Beaufort County Water Search and Rescue said.
"It is very unsafe, and even at high tide the pilings are still just underneath the water line," Russell said.
Brady said utility is preparing signs to post on the banks near the pilings warning boaters this week.
The removal of railroad tracks, ties and ballast began in August 2010 after the utility purchased the railroad to better protect its pipes, which lie beneath the railroad.
Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority granted Beaufort County an easement to develop a trail -- dubbed the Spanish Moss Rail Trail -- along the corridor from Ribaut Road in Port Royal to the Whale Branch River.
It also granted a 11.8-mile easement between the Whale Branch River and the town of Yemassee to the Trust for Natural Wildlife Habitats to preserve as a natural wildlife corridor.
Although he will be happy to see the pilings removed at the mud level, Smith said he and his neighbors were sad to see the trestle go.
"There is a long heritage of my neighbors using that trestle to learn how to fish and get food," Smith said.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/lcblotter.