THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Beaches: Town will seek bids for renourishment before referendum
By Charles Swenson
Engineers will move forward with the design of a beach nourishment project for Pawleys Island even as some residents are raising concerns about the scope and cost of the work. Town Council members said it is important to get the project out to bid so the island’s property owners can know the actual cost.
“This allows the process to continue,” Mayor Bill Otis said. This week’s special council meeting was the last in his 20 years as mayor. It drew about 30 people, with several calling on the town to delay action on an $11.8 million project to put 725,000 cubic yards of offshore sand along the town’s beachfront.
The town is seeking state and federal permits to place 1.1 million cubic yards of sand on the beach, but bids on work in other parts of the South Carolina coast have come in higher than the town’s original estimate for that project. The 725,000 cubic yards are what the town beach committee believes it can afford through a mix of local funds, a state grant and a $2 million bank loan.
Henry Thomas, a member of the committee, told council he was changing his vote and said the decision was “railroaded.” He called the proposal “seriously flawed.”
Larson Jaenicke told the council that the scaled-back project won’t have the longevity of the original proposal and will leave the town short of money to deal with emergencies.
The committee recommended the town move forward in order to complete the project before the next hurricane season and make the town eligible for federal funds to repair the beach in the case of a declared natural disaster.
But Jaenicke said the federal funds will only pay 75 percent of the cost and the town will need to spend money to claim reimbursement. Using figures from the town’s consultants, Coastal Science and Engineering, he said the town will have to do another maintenance beach nourishment project in five years, but won’t have the funds on hand.
The larger project “gives you the ideal beach and it gives you a buffer,” Jaenicke said.
To pay for the additional sand, he said the town could provide public access to 1.1 miles in the middle of the island in order to increase state grant funds by nearly $2 million. “That idea was not discussed in the beach nourishment committee meeting,” he said.
Another source of funds “and nobody wants to talk about it on this island,” he said, is a $1,000 annual assessment that would raise over $500,000 annually.
The beach committee recommendation included a non-binding referendum of island property owners. Council Member Rocky Holliday, who chairs the committee, proposed that be conducted after the engineers complete the design and get the bids. “If the prices come in lower, we can put more sand out there, and that’s what everybody wants,” he said.
The council agreed.
Council Member Sarah Zimmerman said the assessment shouldn’t be ruled out and could be part of the referendum. “I’d rather pay $1,000 a year than you come to me and say, whack, five grand or 10 grand,” she said.
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