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Pawleys Island: To repair beach, town faces a flood of paperwork

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island has appealed to Gov. Nikki Haley for help with permits to repair dunes damaged by Hurricane Joaquin in October. Officials say the emergency permit process lacks coordination between state and federal agencies and has delayed work that will protect beach houses from winter storms.

The hurricane that passed offshore in early October combined with a low-pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico to dump record amounts of rain on the state. That was followed three weeks later by a nor’easter that arrived with an unusually high tide to further erode the island’s sand dunes. A survey by Coastal Carolina University shows over 100,000 cubic yards of sand were lost, with the most severe damage on the island’s narrow south end.

The town has applied to the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management for an emergency permit to scrape sand from the beach to rebuild the dune south of Hazard Street. The agency allows scraping in places where the dune or the ocean is within 20 feet of a house. It has told the town 60 of 80 structures qualify, Mayor Bill Otis said.

But the state permit requires that the town get a letter of approval from each property owner before work can be done. “It’s not in the law, but they’re the regulators,” Otis said.

The town has struggled for over a year to get easements from property owners to move electric and cable TV lines underground. The process has delayed the utility project, and Otis fears the same thing will happen with beach scraping, even though the approval from property owners doesn’t need to be as formal as the utility easements.

“You can’t exactly call it an emergency permit if you have to wait on every property owner,” Otis said.

But that’s only part of the problem.

The Army Corps of Engineers also requires a permit if the town wants to scrape sand from the beach. “What is recoverable is below mean low water,” Otis said.

The town planned to file that permit application Wednesday. “I’ll believe it when I see it that they are going to act expeditiously,” Council Member Mike Adams said.

Otis wrote Haley last week asking that Coastal Resources “alter its permitting procedures and establish supportive working relations” with the Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to address this significant beach and dune system damage.”

He asked that Haley have Coastal Resources issue a temporary permit to allow work to start before winter storms can cause further damage.

Haley’s office did not return a call seeking comment on the request.

The town will apply to FEMA for funds to repair the beachfront under the federal disaster declaration issued in October. Agency representatives initially told the town it wasn’t eligible for funding for beach work, Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. “Since the storm, the attitude of FEMA has improved,” he added.

An estimate prepared by FEMA after the hurricane put the town’s sand loss at 96,000 cubic yards and used a cost of $30 a cubic yard to replace it, a total of $2.9 million.

The town has a former FEMA employee helping with its application, which it hoped to submit this week. Otis said he expects the request will be denied, but it can be appealed.

“Our decisions won’t be dictated by what they do,” Fabbri said.

The town is also working with Coastal Science and Engineering to prepare the data needed to apply for state and federal permits to repair the dunes north of Hazard Street. That area wouldn’t qualify under the emergency permit regulations.

If the emergency scraping is approved for the island’s south end, Otis said the town will pay for that and seek reimbursement later. He estimated the cost of that work around $50,000, down from an initiate estimate of $200,000, basing that figure on work that was done on the beach at DeBordieu.

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