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Pawleys Island: Town takes a long view as it plans repairs to eroded beach

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

At high tide there’s little beach for visitors to Pawleys Island to walk on after last week’s storm-driven surf cut 6 to 12 feet from the dunes. Mayor Bill Otis hopes that along with emergency measures to rebuild the dunes, the damage will prompt the state to look at long-term ways to maintain the public beaches.

“Other states have an on-going beach nourishment fund,” Otis said. “That is something this state needs to give serious consideration to.”

The town once had a $1 million commitment from the state toward a $8.98 million beach nourishment project for the island’s south end. The project was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, but never funded by Congress. The state money disappeared. The town continued to accumulate funds for beach nourishment and now has about $5 million.

A 2014 study commissioned by the town found the southern third of Pawleys Island needed about 350,000 cubic yards of sand to provide “a minimum healthy beach.” Since last week’s storm, it has hired surveyors to figure out how much sand was lost to erosion.

“It’s clear if you walk the beach how significant it is,” Otis said. Most of the island doesn’t have a dry beach at high tide.

The town is in talks with Georgetown and Horry counties to collaborate on data that will help develop beach nourishment projects, Otis said. Horry County has on-going projects. Georgetown County does not, but plans to dredge shoals in Murrells Inlet are expected to provide sand for the beach at Garden City. The local governments will seek funds for beach repairs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Otis said.

“I can’t tell you how much we’re talking about,” he said. “This beach needs some help.”

Otis said during a press conference in Georgetown last week that the beach at Pawleys Island suffered as much erosion in a weekend as he can remember in his 18 years as mayor. He called for a major effort to restore all the beaches affected by the storm. “Beaches are the life blood of this coast,” he said, “and we need to protect our assets.”

Town Council this week approved up to $25,000 to get started with surveys and permitting for the beachfront. It had already agreed to seek permits for repairs to the 23 rock groins that were identified in the 2014 study, prepared by Coastal Science and Engineering.

Otis said he also talked with Paul Gayes, director of the Center for Marine and Wetland Studies at Coastal Carolina University, who has done beachfront studies in Georgetown and Horry counties. He said Gayes will include Pawleys Island in new studies to help determine how much sand was lost. The volume will determine the cost of renourishment and any funding from FEMA, Otis said.

Otis said he also wants to update data used to develop the 2006 Corps of Engineers beach nourishment project to see if the cost-benefit ratio has improved since the mid-1990s. A better number would help it “move up the list for funding,” he said.

But Otis doubts Congress will fund the project. He is a member of S.C. Beach Advocates, a nonprofit formed last year among beachfront communities. “It is critical for the state to restore wide beaches and high dunes that will protect coastal infrastructure and sustain the South Carolina beaches that drive this state’s tourism economy,” according to a group statement.

The group wants the state to create long-term, dedicated funding for beach nourishment, said Nicole Elko, a coastal management consultant who serves as its executive director. Florida and New Jersey have funding. North Carolina is debating the idea, she said.

The goal is to provide a 50 percent match from the state for the projects. The Beach Advocates estimates it will be about $10 million a year, Elko said.

Although federal funds for such projects are harder to obtain, she pointed out that Folly Beach had $30 million from the Corps of Engineers for a recent renourishment project. “Congress is more likely to appropriate funds if the state does,” Elko said.

While Pawleys Island’s $5 million in its beach nourishment fund seems substantial, Otis pointed out that DeBordieu spent $9.5 million on a project completed this year that placed 650,000 cubic yards of sand on 8,100 feet of beach. After the storm, “a lot is gone, but you have to remember why you put it there,” Otis said. “It would be buildings and a lot of things people owned that would be gone” instead of the sand.

Two years after hearing, council looks for ruling on groin permit

The town of Pawleys Island will ask a state Administrative Law Court judge to meet with attorneys to give them an idea of when he plans to rule on a case heard nearly two years ago challenging a state permit to build a rock and concrete groin in front of the south end parking lot.

Georgetown County, which owns the parking lot, received a permit from the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management in September 2012 to build a 205-foot-long groin to trap sand. The permit was appealed by the Coastal Conservation League and the local chapters of the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters.

The town of Pawleys Island wants to intervene in the case since Georgetown County decided not to defend the permit.

Judge Phillip Lenski heard arguments in the appeal and the town’s request to intervene in November 2013. “I will make my decision very quickly,” he said at the end of the hearing.

“We’re still waiting,” Town Attorney David DuRant told Town Council this week, the same report he gives every month.

DuRant told council members he could request a conference with the judge if they told him to do so. The vote was unanimous.

DuRant said he will write the judge and the other attorneys involved in the appeal.

Mayor Bill Otis said that while the permit won’t be affected by the delay, the town obtained an easement for the county to do the work on the groin. A portion of the property between the parking lot and Pawleys Inlet is privately owned and he worries the easement will expire before Lenski issues a ruling.

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