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Pawleys Island: Town moves to Plan B with sand dune repair

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island has applied for a state permit to extend its project to scrape sand from the beach to rebuild its dunes. The town has an emergency permit from the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to push up sand in front of 58 houses on the island’s south end and at Pawleys Pier Village. It wants to extend the work through the middle of the island and on the north end.

The town is still waiting for approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for the emergency permit to repair damage caused by storms nearly four months ago. “This is for the expedited emergency permit,” Mayor Bill Otis said. Despite the delay, “I think we’re making progress,” he said.

Town Council could meet as soon as next week to approve a contractor for the emergency scraping. The town sent requests for proposals to three firms this week and wants to be ready to start pushing up sand as soon as it has the corps permit. The town also needs approval from each property owner. “We’re short about 15 of those letters and we can’t start until we get them,” Otis said.

The 58 lots covered by the emergency permit at among 81 lots on the island’s narrow south end. Not all were approved for dune repair under the emergency permit. That means the repairs will leave gaps in the dune that could make it vulnerable to winter storms.

Otis hopes that the new permit request will be approved in time to allow work at all the south end lots before the end of March. After that, work must halt for sea turtle nesting season.

“If we aren’t able to get that in time, we would fall back on the emergency permit,” Otis said.

And even if it got the permits for beach scraping on the entire island, it probably wouldn’t have time to do more than the south end before turtle nesting season. The permits would be good for five years, however.

Under both permits, the town proposes to scrape 12 inches of sand from the beach about 300 feet east of the dune line in order to rebuild the dune. For the 58 lots, the cost is estimated at $80,000 to $100,000. The town would pay that from its reserves that are earmarked for beach projects.

Extending that work to the north end of the island would add three times the distance to the project. The town hopes to get funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency since the October storms prompted a federal disaster designation.

Otis and Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri met last week with staff from FEMA and the state Emergency Management Division. “They didn’t promise anything,” Fabbri said. “All we can do is try.”

He and Otis pointed out that the mid-section of the island is a federally-designated historic district. That’s the same point they made to convince the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to alter its plan for wind turbine leases off the island. “That seemed to get their attention,” Otis said.

He was also encouraged that Gov. Nikki Haley has included $40 million in her proposed state budget for beach nourishment. An estimate by the Corps of Engineers following the October storms put the cost of repairing the state’s beaches at $95.6 million.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, who serves on the Finance Committee, thinks the funds have a chance of making it through the budget process although he noted “we’ve got one senator who calls it sand in the water.”

Even if the legislature keeps the beach funds in the budget, the budget won’t be approved until June, Cleary noted. That isn’t a concern for Otis. “We have no idea where we’re going with FEMA and we do have things that need to get done,” he said. “We’ve got to add sand to this system at some point.”

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