THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Hurricane Irma: Sand tops the list as county tallies costs
By Nikki Best
The initial assessment for Georgetown County from Hurricane Irma totals the damage just under $2.7 million, according to the county’s latest report.
Aside from $310 spent on batteries of all sizes and steno notepads used during emergency management’s escalation of the event, the most costly item on the list is beach recovery. The replacement of sand on county beaches via dredging is estimated at $2.3 million.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency helps fund recovery efforts. FEMA breaks down spending into eight categories. Most of what Georgetown County is seeking reimbursement for falls under Category B, “which is emergency protection measures which talks about the information, the stuff for sheltering and things like that,” the county emergency manager, Sam Hodge, said. The batteries and notepads. Or Category D, water control facilities, which are things like, “beaches and fencing,” Hodge said. The sand.
The town of Pawleys Island has commenced repair work on the south end and will likely be awarded assistance for the sand scraping currently taking place. It would fall under emergency work for FEMA, Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. “We haven’t worked the last three days,” he said. Tides have been unusually high because of Hurricane Maria passing off the coast. “They’re going to start working again at low tide this afternoon and they’re going to have to go back and touch up some of the dunes that were washed away because of the higher tides,” Fabbri said Wednesday.
The amount of assistance from FEMA is still in question when it comes to the beaches. In order to qualify for assistance for a permanent repair a beach must be constructed and maintained “to a designed elevation, width and slope,” according to a FEMA fact sheet. That translates to an engineered beach, and none of the beaches in Georgetown County are engineered.
DeBordieu doesn’t have public access, so it is ineligible. The same goes for Hobcaw Barony since it’s owned and maintained by the Belle W. Baruch Foundation. Litchfield and Pawleys Island are ineligible because they aren’t engineered. According to Hodge the only exceptions at this point would possibly be Garden City and Huntington Beach State Park.
Pawleys Island has taken steps to engineer its beach as part of a $13.3 million renourishment project. Fabbri said that permits have already been filed with the Army Corps of Engineers and state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. The town should have those permits in place by the end of the year. “Hopefully we’ll be able to start construction on that project in the spring,” Fabbri said.
The county damage report was completed in a timely manner according to Hodge. “We actually had a preliminary damage assessment meeting with the state and FEMA,” he said. That was last Thursday. “We gave them rough round numbers and they met with different municipalities in different groups, and then they’ll just start the process of digging through to see what’s out there.”
Previous experiences show that getting reimbursement from FEMA approved can take up to a year. Pawleys Island was reimbursed for damage from Hurricane Matthew after about six months, but it took longer with Hurricane Joaquin because there was no declaration of emergency in 2015.
Pawleys Island was possibly the only town in the state to do sand scraping that year, Fabbri said. The town got a check in April of this year. “We just got the state’s portion this week” for Hurricane Matthew, he said. FEMA covered 75 percent of the damage and the state covered 25 percent for both previous hurricane events. “Not one cent was paid by the town of Pawleys Island when all was said and done.”
During Hurricane Irma Walkway 54 in North Litchfield and Walkways 60, 61 and 66 in Litchfield Beach were damaged enough to be listed individually in the county damage report. Several other accesses will require partial replacement of stairs; “assume half of 52” at North Litchfield, the report says. The repairs for walkways are estimated at $85,100.
A drone was used to survey the damage along the Georgetown County coast. “It saves us so much time on the beach front,” Hodge said. “It was great because then we just upload onto the county server.” Damage assessors can then watch the footage and count houses from beach accesses to figure out where the footage is from, he said.
There are six batteries for the drone and a portable charging station, so Hodge set up on an all-terrain vehicle to get footage of beach damage the day after the storm. “That day was really windy so I only got about 15 minutes out of a battery,” he said. “I flew it and I had one of the fire guys drive me and he was my spotter. So we just drove down all the beach on the roadway and just from Garden City down through Pawleys.”
Other county facilities were also damaged. In Murrells Inlet, “the Marsh Walk, Veteran’s Pier, there was probably $100,000,” Hodge said.
There was structural damage, such as lost boards, and electrical wiring that needs replacing. “When the electrical gets wet, you’ve got to do it,” he said.
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