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Pawleys Island: Town beach work races the clock and the calendar

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Five months after storm systems combined to sweep 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the dunes on Pawleys Island, heavy equipment is pushing some of that sand back in place. Work was began this morning on the south end of the island. Crews will be racing with the clock and the calendar.

They are already a day behind schedule.

The town received an emergency permit from the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to push up sand in front of 58 out of 81 houses on the narrow south end of the island below Hazard Street. The others didn’t meet the state requirements, but the town has also applied for a second permit that would allow scraping along the entire island. It hoped that permit would be approved before work could begin under the emergency permit.

Instead, the town learned Tuesday the emergency permit had expired. “They said it would be a day or two” to get it reinstated, Mayor Bill Otis said.

With equipment already in place at the public parking lot on the south tip of the island, Otis got the agency to reissue the permit late Tuesday.

Goodson Construction of Darlington, the contractor for previous beach nourishment projects on the island, will scrape up to 2 feet of sand from the beach up to the low water mark and rebuild the dune. The work also required an emergency permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. It requires the work to be completed within two weeks.

Under the state and federal permits, work must be done during daylight hours. The crew can work about six hours a day around the low tide. And no work can be done after March 31, the start of sea turtle nesting season. The town will pay $665 an hour for the work up to $100,000, when it will review whether it wants to continue scraping.

The combination of Hurricane Joaquin off the coast and a low pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico in October produced record rainfall in parts of the state and waves that cut the front dune back as far as 16 feet along some portions of Pawleys Island. Those storms were followed by a nor’easter that coincided with astronomically high tides and caused further erosion.

“The high tides are right up against the dune on much of the beach,” Otis said. “A storm-driven tide is going to cut the dune further and under-wash houses even more.”

The emergency work is allowed to protect structures, but because some don’t qualify there will be gaps in the new dune. That prompted the town to seek a general permit. If it is received in time, the sand scraping will move north of Hazard Street, Otis said.

If that happens, he said the First Street beach access will be closed to provide a staging area for the contractor. The south end parking lot will be closed while work is done below Hazzard Street.

The island-wide permit has also been dogged by delays. Some notices sent to property owners by Coastal Resources in January were returned as undeliverable. That triggered another 30-day period. The town was able to shorten that by contacting the owners and getting them to confirm that they didn’t want to comment. Otis said he reached the representative of one property owner who was in an airplane on a runway in Venezuela. And Tuesday, Coastal Resources told Otis it had received another returned notice. That could trigger another 30-day delay unless the town can contact the property owner.

“One way or another, we’ll get it done,” he said.

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