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Pawleys Island: Dune project completes more work in less time

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Work to repair dunes damaged by storms last October will end Friday, a week before the deadline set by state and federal agencies. Town Council gathered over the weekend to approve a second extension to the project that will take it north of Pawleys Pier. The work has moved so quickly that the council had to scramble to give the 24-hours notice of its meeting required by state law.

The actual scraping of sand to form a dune where erosion flattened the beach has been a sea change from the months of work required to get emergency permits for the work. Mayor Bill Otis hoped to have the work completed before February, but the town didn’t get the final permit until the beginning of March.

After work on the vulnerable south end of the island wrapped up in less than a week, the Town Council voted to let Goodson Construction move north toward the pier. “We didn’t realize until late in the week that they were going to get close to the pier by Sunday,” Otis said.

So the council met and told Goodson to keep scraping for another week. “We believe we can still do it for less than $150,000,” Otis said.

Goodson, which also worked on a Pawleys Island beach nourishment project in 1998, was awarded a contract for work at $665 an hour. It brought in extra equipment, which raised the hourly rate, but that was offset by the shorter work schedule. The permits allow the town to remove up to 2 feet of sand from the beach below the high water mark and push up a dune that is 20 feet wide and 6 feet high.

The work moved faster as it moved north along the island because the beach is wider. “On the south end, when the tide came up to mid-tide, they had to quit because it was at the dune,” Otis said. “There was no space.”

That also meant there was little area below the high tide line to scrape sand. In front of some of the homes, the sand was gone within days of being pushed into a dune.

On the wider beach, there is more sand to scrape and more time to scrape it. The walkway at the First Street beach access was removed last week to allow the bulldozers and pan scrapers onto the beach north of Pawleys Pier. The popular access will remain closed until the walkway is rebuilt.

“We’re not going to build it back as it was, not as a vehicle ramp,” Otis said. Emergency vehicles are able to reach the beach at Second Street.

Goodson had to push up sand around the 23 rock and concrete groins that line the island south of the pier in order to cross them with its equipment. As a result, the beach will be easier to walk on.

Over 200 beachfront property owners were involved in the project through permit notices or contact with the town. Only one person called to complain that the new dune was blocking the walkway from her house, Otis said. “That’s a pretty ringing endorsement,” he said.

Owners can extend their walkways, but they must get a building permit, Otis said.

The town will begin looking at future needs along the beach this spring with the formation of a beach committee chaired by Town Council Member Rocky Holliday. The Army Corps of Engineers approved a beach nourishment project for the south end in 2006. The cost at the time was nearly $9 million with the state and the town paying about $3 million. The federal portion of the work was never funded by Congress and the corps was considering whether to remove the project from its list. The Charleston district now has money in its budget to review the project.

Before the October storms, the town expected to start work repairing the groins that have shifted since the 1998 project. That will also be a topic for the beach committee to consider, Otis said.

“This is a good time for the beach committee to start at ground zero,” he said. “It’s important for residents and property owners to understand as much of this as possible.”

Because the storms and the historic flooding inland led to a federal disaster declaration, the town hopes to get reimbursed for a portion of the beach scraping from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency initially said the town didn’t qualify, but the town has continued to press its application.

“The beach has to be considered an engineered beach and maintained almost annually,” Otis said. That’s different from the criteria used after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the last major storm to damage the island. But it’s something the town will have to consider if it can develop another beach nourishment project, he said.

“The further you go into this the more things start to fall into place,” Otis said.

He admits it didn’t seem that way as the emergency sand scraping permits moved through the agencies. But now the view has changed at the end of his boardwalk in the middle of the island. “You have to stop and say it actually worked for all we went through,” Otis said.

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