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Pawleys Island: Town considers sand fence to help dunes grow

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The cost of pushing up new dunes along the Pawleys Island beachfront was half what the town was prepared to pay. Town Council will now consider proposals to place sand fence along the dune to help build it during the summer.

The town started work in March to scrape sand from the beach to rebuild dunes that were eroded by a series of storms in October. It took the town four months to get state and federal emergency permits for the work. The scraping moved faster than anticipated and since the town was paying by the hour, the $75,080 charged by the contractor was well under the $150,000 budget. Engineering, permits and the cost of replacing a walkway at First Street took the total cost to $115,142.

The town has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement because a federal disaster was declared in the state after October’s record rainfall. “Hopefully, they’ll reimburse 75 percent,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said.

Talking with “people in the know,” he estimates the town has a 50-50 chance of getting funds from FEMA.

Fabbri also got an estimate of the cost of installing sand fence along the 3.5 miles of dunes: $138,000.

Town Council agreed last month to budget $12,000 to reimburse property owners up to $200 for the cost of installing fencing. It agreed this week to get proposals from firms that would install the fence for the town. That would make it eligible for reimbursement from FEMA.

Council members said they have mixed feelings about sand fence. Apparently the town’s engineers do too. Fabbri told council members he spoke with the project manager for Coastal Science and Engineering, Andrew Giles, who suggested property owners wait a couple of weeks until the sand settles before installing fence. “He recommends that we do it,” Fabbri said.

Tim Kana, the president of Coastal Science, said in an interview last month that conditions at each lot will determine whether sand fence should be installed. The fence traps sand that blows along the beach, but since the Pawleys project pushed up sand from the front beach rather than added sand, Kana said there wouldn’t be much sand to trap. “The basic prerequisite for dunes is a dry sand beach out in front of the dune,” he said. “It’s not really going to do much if it doesn’t have any dry sand to blow around.”

“It’s not something I would do community-wide,” Kana added.

Fabbri said he gets regular calls from property owners who want to install fence. One has done so already.

The town should “do as much as we can to protect our investment,” Council Member Ashley Carter said.

Council Member Mike Adams agreed. While the fence won’t protect the dune, if sand accretes it will protect the rebuilt dunes, he said. But Adams also suggested that spending town funds for the fence would be a topic to raise with property owners at a meeting scheduled for the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

Council Member Sarah Zimmerman, who agreed with her colleagues to get proposals for the work, also said property owner buy-in is important.

Mayor Bill Otis cautioned that the town should count on getting money from FEMA or base a decision on sand fence on that possibility. “Are you prepared to bite off $100,000-plus?” he asked.

While the town has more than $6 million in reserve, most of that is dedicated to beach nourishment projects, Otis said that money would go fast if a project was under way. It would cost an estimated $1 million to revise an Army Corps of Engineers plan to place offshore sand on the island’s south end. “And that’s with no work being done,” Otis said.

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