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Environment: Neighborhood will haul in sand as erosion threatens homes

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

There’s help on the way for owners of beachfront houses in Inlet Harbor on the south end of Garden City.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit this week allowing the owners of property damaged by erosion this fall to bring in truckloads of sand between their threatened houses and the pounding surf, according to Gairy Nichols, owner of Dunes Realty in Garden City.

In addition to the general permit from the Corps of Engineers, Nichols said beachfront property owners have received an emergency order in association with the Office of Coastal and Resource Management and Georgetown County to scrape sand from the beach into dunes and put up sandbags. “What we will try to do is get more than one scrape so we can have a wall there,” Nichols said.

Three houses inside Inlet Harbor most heavily impacted by erosion have been temporarily condemned, Nichols said. The wooden steps have been swept away by the surf; their exposed pilings reinforced with additional wood.

“Those homeowners could scrape sand today,” Nichols said, “and put sand back under the house and get a permit for occupancy. Since it’s winter and the houses are designed for summer rental, the owners will wait until April or May to replace the sand. The houses are in good shape.”

High tide swallows the beach at Inlet Harbor. Charlie Nash, former president of the homeowners association, said the beach used to be 30 feet wide. Nash worries that erosion will reach the community’s underground wiring, and Santee Cooper will shut the electricity off to the community’s 66 homes. He said he resigned as president of the HOA over frustration of trying to get something done about the beach.

“We are getting ready to have nor’easters that are going to batter this whole area in here,” Nash said. “If we don’t get something done, this whole place is going to be shut down.”

His frustration comes from the delay in getting sand moved back to the beach from the Murrells Inlet jetties. Tons are visible at low tide. He said the community homeowners hired an engineer to study the beach for a year. The engineer’s attempts at getting a permit to move sand were denied. “We wasted a year, and it got worse,” Nash said.

Scraping sand from the waterline into small dunes in front of the beach houses would only be a Band-Aid, according to Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway. “We’ve been a part of that whole effort, meeting with the corps to discuss that,” he said. “It’s not a county issue to run out there and take care of that sand.”

While scraping sand from the beach provides some short-term relief from erosion, it’s not really a solution, according to Lee Hewitt, owner of Garden City Realty and a member of the board of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“Sand scraping is not ideal,” said Hewitt, who is running for the state House of Representatives from District 108. “What you want is a sloped beach to allow the wave energy to dissipate over a wide area. When you scrape, the wave hits the dune harder because there’s nothing there to take away the energy of that wave. The solution makes the problem worse.”

October is the scheduled date for dredging the Murrells Inlet channel. Tons of beach sand are filling in the channel. Hewitt said clearance into the harbor is about 4 feet at low tide, and the fishing boats draw about 4 feet. The inlet dredging would solve both problems, he said, because the spoils would be pure sand.

Spokesman Sean McBride said the Corps of Engineers is working on a memorandum of understanding with Georgetown County to accept $6 million as payment for dredging the inlet. Once the money is deposited, the Corps will put out contracts in June or July and dredging could start as early as September. The work, McBride said, would take about four months.

“We took a big hit in October,” said Nichols. “If we can get through the winter and to next October to dredge there will be relief. It’s down the road, but at least we got a road.”

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