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Pawleys Island: Town makes plans for emergency sand scraping

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Five days after a team from the Corps of Engineers assessed beach erosion on Pawleys Island caused by the “1,000-year storm,” an extreme high tide coupled with strong northeast winds compounded the damage. This week’s events amounted to the perfect storm that Mayor Bill Otis hoped to avoid.

“There was significantly more damage, particularly toward the south end,” Otis said.

At high tide Tuesday morning, the surf broke under several houses on the narrow south end of the island. At the same time, the highest tide of the year – created by the proximity of the moon to the Earth – brought the water in Pawleys Creek over the road. The town closed the public parking lot on the south end because erosion left a steep escarpment below the walkway.

At Litchfield Beach, where six of seven public walkways were closed after a storm earlier this month, the walkway next to the Litchfield Inn was closed after Tuesday’s tides. A Georgetown County work crew had already repaired two of the walkways and was at work on a third.

Otis is now making plans to utilize a general state permit that allows emergency sand scraping to protect structures within 20 feet of the beachfront. “It’s a matter of us basically determining how many houses there are where the beach is within 20 feet,” he said.

The town also hopes to get federal funds to restore the beach to its condition before it was eroded by a combination of Hurricane Joaquin moving offshore and a low pressure system that came up from the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month. That storm caused record flooding across the state.

A team from the Army Corps of Engineers prepared a preliminary estimate of damage to the beach that will be presented to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The total for the state is $95 million, according to people familiar with the report.

For Georgetown County, the damage estimate is $12 million. For the town of Pawleys Island, it’s just under $3 million.

The team looked at four places on the island with Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri. “It was more or less to confirm what they had already suspected,” he said.

The figures the Corps staff gave him were based on an average of 5 cubic yards of sand lost along every linear foot of shoreline.

The exception was at Folly Beach in Charleston County where a beach nourishment project was just completed and the town had current engineering data. The Corps team put the loss there at 14 cubic yards per foot.

Pawleys Island and Georgetown County hope to get similar data from a survey by Coastal Carolina University. The town already has data from a 2014 beach survey to establish the condition of the beach before the storm.

Otis believes that data will allow the town to make repairs to the beach before winter storms can threaten structures that have little or no protection from sand dunes. That work would follow any emergency sand scraping, he said.

“If we’re going to do any of that, the question is how can we pay for it,” Otis said. “The most obvious answer to that is FEMA money.”

Otis also hopes that the town will be able to do a long-term beach nourishment project. “You’ve got substantial permitting that you’ve got to do,” he said. “It’s a two year project at minimum.”

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