By Eric Egan
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- It's dirty, heavy and there's a lot of it. But all that dirt and mud that's dredged from the harbor every year has to go somewhere.
It's possible you don't notice it. But annually, nearly one million tons of materials are dug up from the Charleston harbor. It's hard work, and it has to be done.
"If we did not have these areas we could not maintain and keep Charleston harbor the economic engine that it is for the region," said Lt. Col. Ed Chamberlayne, the district commander with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps leads the way with this constant project. They took ABCNews4 to the uncharted territory just off the Cooper River. They call the sites their disposal cells, but it looks more like an uninhabited wasteland. It's more than 400 acres of mud and ocean sediment, stuff you don't want to walk on.
"That ain't a good idea," said Frank Russell, the Corps' quality assurance representative for dredging. "You could be walking on about two to three feet of just pluff mud."
The stuff that's dredged ends up at the disposal sites after it's pumped through pipes that run up from the Wando and Cooper rivers. And just about anything that will fit into one of the massive drainage pipes can end up in one of these locations. Workers have found everything from bicycles to shark teeth in the broken up remnants.
There are four disposal spots in all, visible from I-526 and the Don Holt Bridge. While drivers are usually looking down at them, the view from below can also be a pretty one. Depending on the perspective, the landscape has a beauty seen best by the right beholder.
"If we did not have this and had nowhere to take this material, we would have to pay 10 times the cost of pumping it in here, to dispose it somewhere else," Chamberlayne said.
Thankfully the Corps doesn't have that concern. Once each site is filled, it can be partially drained and reused. It's a four-year process.
The Army Corps gets up to $20 million to dredge and maintain the harbor at its current depth of 45 feet.