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Pawleys Island: Dune repair faces another delay as letters go astray

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A narrow window of time for the town of Pawleys Island to rebuild a sand dune on the narrow south end got smaller last week when state regulators extended the time for public comment.

The town has an emergency permit from the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to scrape a foot of sand from the beach in front of 58 houses to restore a dune cut by storms in October. Another 12 houses in the area don’t qualify for the emergency work, but the town is seeking a second permit that would cover them along with the rest of the town’s beachfront.

Coastal Resources last week extended the comment period on the second permit because 11 letters notifying property owners of the town’s application were returned. The decision came after Town Council voted to hire a contractor for the work, scheduled to start March 1.

The comment period was due to close Feb. 19. That could extend to March 6, Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. The work has to be completed by March 31 to avoid sea turtle nesting season.

The letters used addresses contained in Georgetown County property tax files, Fabbri said.

The town will pay Goodson Construction of Darlington $665 an hour to rebuild the dune. The council set a $100,000 limit on the first phase of work. “Goodson said they can do the work in three weeks,” Fabbri said. It has to be done in coordination with the tides, typically three hours before and after the low tide. Work also has to be done during the day.

Coastal Resources staff told Fabbri they won’t extend the comment period if the town gets the 11 property owners whose letters were returned to acknowledge they were notified and don’t intend to comment. “It’s worth a try,” he said.

The town was also required to get letters of approval from property owners as a condition of the emergency permit. All but three of 80 property owners have provided letters, Fabbri said.

Doing the work under the general permit means there won’t be gaps in the south end’s rebuilt dune. “We can always fall back on the emergency order,” Fabbri said. “Either way the work will get done.”

The general permit is good for five years so the town will be able to work on other portions of the island in the fall. Outside the south end, the town’s beach has been mostly stable, according to a 2014 study by Coastal Science and Engineering that compared sand volumes with 1998, the last time the town conducted a beach nourishment project. But the October storms, a combination of a low-pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Joaquin, took over 100,000 cubic yards from the dunes, according to an assessment by Coastal Carolina University.

Before the storm, the town had proposed a project to repair the 23 rock and concrete groins that line the beach from Pawleys Pier to the south end. The structures trap sand in the current that moves parallel to the shore. It also received approval from the Army Corps of Engineers in 2006 for an $8.9 million beach nourishment project for the south end. The work was never funded by Congress.

The town learned last year the corps might drop the Pawleys project from its list. The town has since been in talks with the agency about doing an update to the project plan in hopes of keeping it alive and perhaps reducing the cost to make funding more likely. A committee of island property owners is due to consider options for beach nourishment. That committee won’t be formed until after the current emergency work is done.

“Short term, it seems like we’re getting a reasonable handle on that,” Council Member Rocky Holliday said. He will chair the committee. The process of getting the current permits has shown the town needs more information before it creates a committee to look at long-term options. “We want to make sure when this committee comes together that we can give them the full picture,” Holliday said.

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