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Pawleys Island: No funds for beach as erosion cuts dunes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A beach nourishment project for Pawleys Island approved four years ago by the Corps of Engineers for the island’s narrow south end continues to languish for lack of funds even as the highest dunes on the island have been severely eroded by winter storms.

No money was included in the proposed federal budget announced last month. None was included in last year’s federal stimulus package.

“It’s been authorized. It’s been a needed project,” said Lisa Metheney, chief of programs and civil project management for the Corps’ Charleston District.

The Pawleys project showed up on a work schedule for the 2011 fiscal year posted last month on the district’s Web site. It called for a contract to be awarded in March 2011.

The posting was a mistake, Metheney said. The project is on the district’s planning list, but is not scheduled because there is no money.

“We’d love to get out and construct Pawleys,” she said. “The budget being what it is now, and being constrained as it is, we have to focus on spending the biggest bang for our buck.”

The $8.98 million project would put 666,400 cubic yards of sand on 1.4 miles of beach. The federal government would pay 65 percent of the cost. The state has approved $1.5 million for the project, but that appropriation is due to expire this year.

The lack of federal funding is due to its performance-based budget process, Metheney said.

The Pawleys project is projected to have a $1.60 benefit for every $1 spent. It would have a better chance if that benefit was closer to $2.50, she said.

“A lot of it has to do with how many new-start construction projects are trying to start,” she said.

“This is absolutely the first I’ve heard of that,” Mayor Bill Otis said. He’s been working on the beach nourishment project for more than a decade.

He said he has been told that a project can get funded as long as the cost-benefit ratio is better than 1 to 1.

The benefits include protecting public access, infrastructure and structures. “If you used today’s values for replacement, it would drive the ratio up,” Otis said.

But the cost-benefit analysis is a document about 3-1/2 inches thick and isn’t likely to be revised, he said.

Otis has renewed requests to Sen. Lindsey Graham and 1st District Rep. Henry Brown to get funds for the project added to the Corps of Engineers budget.

Winter storms have caused the worst beach erosion on the island in recent memory, causing the town to suspend a program that encourages property owners to install fencing to help build up the sand dunes.

The middle section of Pawleys Island has some of the highest dunes in the state. Erosion left scarps 10 feet high along the face of some dunes, Otis said.

The town shares a portion of the cost for owners who want to install fencing to trap blowing sand and build up the dunes. After meeting with Tim Kana, a coastal engineer who has worked with the town on beach nourishment, Otis asked Town Council to suspend the program until sand begins filling in at the base of the scarps.

“I believe this is as bad as I’ve seen the scarps,” Otis said.

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