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Pawleys Island: State permit will leave gaps in new sand dune

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The first line of defense against storm damage on the narrow south end of Pawleys Island will have some holes.

The town of Pawleys Island has a permit from the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to scrape sand in front of 58 houses on the south end to rebuild the sand dune that was eroded – and in some cases flattened – by storms in October. It is awaiting a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and it needs permission from each property owner before work can start.

The 58 houses are among 81 south of Hazard Street in the island’s Birds Nest section to the public parking lot on Pawleys Inlet. They qualified for scraping under an emergency permit because the dune or stormwater was within 20 feet of the structure. But the properties that qualify aren’t contiguous.

“Several on the south end with retaining walls are excluded,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

There will be at least five gaps in the new dune, which means water from a storm-driven tide can flow behind it and possibly undermine the emergency work. “Clearly it would be much better if they were included,” Otis said. “The state law doesn’t allow that.”

In one case, what the state agency says is a seawall that renders a lot ineligible for scraping is what Otis said is a cinder block wall under the house. It also has a retaining wall along its driveway, but both features are outside the state’s jurisdiction, Otis said. He still hopes to get that property included.

And Otis said that state officials understand that leaving gaps in the dune isn’t a good idea. The problem, he said, is “the law and the ensuing regulations are directed at individual property owners who want a permit for them to do sand scraping in front of their houses. The law doesn’t envision 60 or 70 houses.”

Although the town hoped to have emergency work completed by now, the process stretched out as it got engineering work done to qualify for the Corps of Engineers permit. The application was submitted last week and the agency told Otis it would issue a permit within a few days. He hopes to have approval by the end of the week.

“If we got the permit from the Corps today, it wouldn’t make any difference,” Otis said on Wednesday. “The thing that’s going to hold us up is the letters from the property owners.”

The town sent letters in mid-December to owners of all the lots that it thought could qualify. It has only about half the letters needed to start scraping in front of the 58 approved properties.

Town Council this week approved seeking bids to have the work done. One contractor has already discussed ways to tie in the new dune with what remains of the old dune in front of the ineligible lots, Otis said. The town will pay for the work from a $5 million reserve earmarked for beach projects.

Otis now hopes to have the work done in March. Any property where owners don’t respond with permission will be skipped, he said, even if that creates more gaps in the dune.

“This has been the most frustrating three months I can remember in a long time,” Otis said.

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