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Environment: Beach project seeks all the sand money can buy

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Over a million cubic yards of offshore sand will be pumped up to 3.5 miles to provide 60 acres of beach at high tide under a beach nourishment project for the town of Pawleys Island. Federal and state permitting agencies will take public comment of the proposal through March 18.

The purpose of the project is to reduce damage from storms, according to the permit application prepared for the town by Coastal Science and Engineering. It’s the result of more than two years of work by the town, beginning before a combination of storms in October 2015 caused severe erosion along the island’s beachfront. The town used pre-storm data from a groin repair study to measure the loss and additional damage from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

The town wants permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to place up to 1.1 million cubic yards of sand on 2.7 miles of beach from the public parking lot on the south end to just north of Pawleys Pier. That would create a berm up to 6 feet high and 20 feet wide. The new beach would be 20 to 400 feet wide. Over half the sand would be placed on the island’s narrow south end from Pritchard Street to the parking lot. That’s the area where the storm surge from Hurricane Matthew washed under many of the houses.

The volume of sand is based on the amount engineers believe is needed to maintain the beach for a decade, based on current erosion rates.

How much sand is actually moved depends on funding, according to the permit. The town is seeking $6.2 million from a beach repair fund administered by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. That will be matched by local funds for a $13 million project.

If the town doesn’t get the full amount from the state, “any reduction of volume would be applied fairly evenly,” the permit says.

The sand will come from two borrow sites in the ocean off the island’s south end. One site covers 319 acres about a mile offshore that was identified by the Corps of Engineers for a beach nourishment project it designed, but was never funded by Congress. That contains an estimated 1.1 million cubic yards of sand.

Because sand in that borrow area varies from the island’s native beach sand, the town wants to dredge most of the sand for the current project from a site about 3.5 miles off the south end that covers 832 acres. It contains an estimated 2.5 million cubic yards of sand.

The application says the work will take 60 to 90 days with crews working around the clock. It wants permission to work between Nov. 1 to July 31, which could take it into the sea turtle nesting season that begins May 1. No work will be done during the turtle hatching season from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31.

If the work is allowed during the nesting season, the area will be monitored for new nests, which will be moved. Also, equipment will be stored off the beach and fencing will be used to prevent turtles from becoming trapped. Lighting for night work will be limited and work will halt if turtles are sighted in the construction area.

Engineers will also monitor the dredged sand to make sure it is compatible with the native beach sand. If large volumes of gravel or other coarse material make it through the pipeline, the contractor will remove it, by hand if necessary, according to the permit application.

Comments can be sent to Chris Stout at stoutcm@dhec.sc.gov.

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