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Pawleys Island: Town beach study may lead to groin repair

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

An engineering study of the Pawleys Island beachfront this summer will provide the town with a plan for restoring a shoreline battered by a series of winter storms since Hurricane Sandy passed offshore in 2012. The first step could be repairing some of the 22 rock and concrete groins that trap sand along the beach.

“That may be the first thing we’ll actually do, get a permit to repair those groins,” Mayor Bill Otis said. “My personal belief is that it’s having something to do with the problems we’re having.”

Town Council agreed last month to spend up to $36,410 with Coastal Science and Engineering of Columbia to assess the state of the beach and the groins, which are built perpendicular to the beach to trap sand in the current that runs parallel to the shore. The firm has done work for the town for over 20 years and some of the people working on the project this summer also worked with the town on a 1998 project that repaired the groins, according to Tim Kana, the company’s principal.

The Coastal Science study will compare the current state of the groins to their condition after the repair project, which included adding about 250,000 cubic yards of sand to the groin compartments that run from Pawleys Pier to the island’s south end.

“Erosion has recently accelerated along portions of the approximately 4-mile-long island, particularly in some of the central groin cells,” Kana noted in the project outline.

The town has its maintenance workers collecting battered sand fence that has wound up as debris near some groins, Otis said. Property owners can’t put out new fencing to trap blowing sand because the dune edge is too steep for it to be effective.

“What we’re looking for is as much information as possible on what’s caused it and what can be done to restore it to where we were,” Otis said.

Past studies show that sand tends to accumulate at the ends of the island: around Midway Inlet on the north and Pawleys Inlet on the south. The current study will determine how much sand is available at the inlets to nourish sections of the beach in the middle of the island. It will also look at other sources of beach-compatible sand.

The engineers will also calculate the erosion rate in the areas between each pair of groins. And they will recommend specific repairs to each of the structures, such as adding rock or patching the concrete that holds the rock in place.

Coastal Science will provide the town with a plan for beach restoration over the next 10 years, including cost estimates. The town would need to commission some additional studies and obtain state and federal permits before any work is done.

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently taking comments on a general permit that would allow local government in the state’s coastal counties to carry out emergency beach nourishment. That wouldn’t allow the kind of project the town has in mind, but having the beach study in hand “would put us in a position to respond to an emergency,” Otis said.

The study is due to be completed by the fall.

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