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The Real Dirt on Pooler Gumbo

What makes this area’s sand so iconic for all the wrong reasons?

For most of us, dirt is dirt. You put a shovel in the ground, you get dirt.

But to the experienced eye, what we think of as soil is a delicate balance of factors – acidity,

density, moisture content – all coming together to create soil that serves as an area’s


In Pooler, for example, we have what we like to call Pooler Gumbo.

“Pooler Gumbo is just a wet, clay-like substances which makes up the predominant type of soil in Pooler,” said Chris Tilton, President of The Dewitt Tilton Group. “And it’s completely non-structural. If you pack your pad with ‘Pooler gumbo’ and drive equipment over it, it will sink where the equipment is and rise up where it isn’t.”

So what is this pesky substrate and why is it such a nuisance for builders?

“If you go out toward the coast, you have fantastic soil. It’s sandy, and sand drains water,” said Tilton. “Further into Georgia, you get that famous Georgia red clay.”

And in between, you get Pooler Gumbo. Unable to drain like sand, but nowhere near as stable as clay, this transition between the two can create havoc on a building site. Not only will it retain water, which can create numerous issues with proper grading and drainage, it also expands and contracts greatly based on moisture and pressure.

“We operate on a general rule of two in, two out,” said Tilton. “What that means is that essentially when you have Pooler gumbo, you dig down two feet and muck out, then backfill with two feet.”

And if building on a large site, Dewitt Tilton Group insists on doing the job properly by clearing out the Pooler Gumbo from the entire site, rather than just on the building pad.

“Companies used to just muck out where the pad was, and that led to all kinds of problems,” said Tilton. “Some of them would leave it in place under the parking pad, but then when it expands you wind up with massive damage to your parking lot.”

Expanding on his philosophy on “two in, two out,” Tilton states that his team can build up as much as 5-6 feet of “good dirt” on a site. This specialized matrix of soils allows for a stabilizing bridge over Pooler Gumbo, which can go down as much as two feet below pilings.

And for those drawn to Pooler by the promise of cheap land, that necessary step can result in huge costs. “The problem is, someone will find a piece of land and think they got a good deal,” he said. “But it can cost up to $40,000 per foot per acre to muck and fill. So with an acre site, that’s upwards of $100,000 just to get back to zero elevation.”

To remediate these costs, Tilton always recommends getting a Geotech report done, allowing buyers to see exactly what lies below the surface. And those who need to clear away Pooler Gumbo can always mitigate the costs of hauling it away by building a berm somewhere on-site with it, or by selling it for farming.

“It has a lot of organics in it, which is part of what makes it bad for building, but it’s great for planting,” said Tilton.

If you are considering a commercial or industrial construction project in the Coastal Empire or Lowcountry region, give Dewitt Tilton Group a call! From trees to keys, our team lives and breathes the building and design process with a full understanding of the intricacies of industrial and commercial construction. Call us today at 912-777-3404 or visit our website at

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