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Hurricane Irma: Town prepares to rebuild dunes
By Charles Swenson
They were different storms, but had the same result. Even though the eye of Hurricane Irma never got closer than about 350 miles from Pawleys Island, its wind and storm surge flattened the beach on the south end the same way Hurricane Matthew did 11 months ago when the eye of that Category 1 storm passed directly overhead.
Heavy equipment is due to return to the island beachfront by Monday to start pushing up a new dune. Sand that washed under the houses and onto Springs Avenue was being removed Wednesday by crews from the state Department of Transportation and stockpiled in the south end parking lot.
“It wasn’t the same severity as Matthew, yet it leaves us with almost the same problem,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. It’s the same problem the town had after Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. After that storm, it took months to get permits to push sand from the beach back into dunes. The town now has engineers under contract to help get the permits and heavy equipment under contract to start work once the permits are approved.
“You don’t need to be an engineer to know that no dune whatsoever between the ocean and the home is not a good thing,” Fabbri said. “We don’t even have to have a storm event for water to go running into the street on Springs at the high tide.”
It cost the town $320,000 to push up new dunes on three miles of beach after Matthew. Outside the island’s narrow south end, estimates of the erosion from Irma vary between 20 and 40 percent of the sand pushed up last year. It is likely that the town will extend its sand scraping beyond the south end, Fabbri said. “The last two years, we had the same kind of approach to it,” he said. “If we’re already out there, there’s no reason not to do the whole thing.”
The fact that sand was lost rather than structures showed the strategy was sound, Mayor Bill Otis said. Outside the south end, “there’s still a lot of sand left,” he said.
The storm surge from Irma also flooded the island’s roads, forcing police to close the island at high tide on Monday. Overall, damage was slight.
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