092117 Hurricane Irma: Sand harder to find as dune building begins
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The south end parking lot is closed to visitors while the beach work is under way.

Hurricane Irma: Sand harder to find as dune building begins

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Crews that began work this week to push up dunes along the narrow south end of Pawleys Island after the third storm in three years found they have less sand to work with. That could be a factor as the town works to complete a major beach nourishment project.

“It’s taking a little longer this time than the previous two years because there’s simply not as much sand,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said.

The town pushed up a new dune on the south end following Hurricane Joaquin in 2015 and after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Hurricane Irma washed the latest dune away last week. “A lot of it ended up in the creek,” Fabbri said.

The town has state and federal permits to scrape sand to a depth of 2 feet from the intertidal zone in front of beach houses to rebuild the dune. A pair of bulldozers, an excavator and a dump truck started work at low tide on Monday in front of the public parking lot on the southern tip of the island. The first task was pushing up enough sand to allow the machines to cross the first of the rock and concrete groins that run perpendicular to the shore.

The sand deficit was most acute in the first three groin cells, Fabbri said. Coastal Science and Engineering is working on a survey to calculate the volume of sand eroded by Hurricane Irma. The firm is also preparing the larger beach nourishment project that will pump up to 1.1 million cubic yards of offshore sand onto the island’s beach.

“A lot of people had the misconception that we pushed up more sand last year,” Fabbri said. In fact, it was just moving sand that had been part of the dune. Coastal Science has said in the past that while the annual erosion rate on the island is relatively low, the lack of sand in the system makes the dunes – and the houses behind them – more vulnerable to storm damage.

Some of the sand was washed onto Springs Avenue by the storm surge from Hurricane Irma. It was cleared from the pavement by the state Department of Transportation and stockpiled in the south end parking lot. That will be replaced on the beach, Fabbri said.

The scraping is scheduled to continue north along the beach to Hazard Street. The town has permits to continue the scraping farther north where the dunes were also eroded, but not flattened. Town Council will decide whether to extend the work, and council members at a meeting after the storm last week said they are likely to approve scraping along the rest of the beach. The town spent $320,000 on beach scraping after Hurricane Matthew last October.

Many of the houses along the south end are still occupied by late-season vacationers. “There certainly is a nuisance aspect,” Fabbri said. “Most people have decided to come anyway.”

Pawleys Island Police have an officer with an all-terrain vehicle on the beach to stay one groin compartment ahead of the heavy equipment and keep beachgoers safe.

“I like to point out the positives,” Fabbri said. Scraping goes on only at low tide and only during the day. And the public parking lot on the south end is closed as the staging area for the machinery. “You don’t have to share that beach with anyone,” he said.

Coastal Science is also preparing a list of options for the town’s beach nourishment project after the town learned in August that its request for state funding would be cut by $2.2 million because there is no public beach access in the middle of the island. The town asked for a $6.2 million grant from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, part of $30 million approved by the legislature for beach repairs after Hurricane Joaquin. The total project is estimated to cost $13.3 million.

PRT told the town it would only fund portions of the project at the north and south ends of the island that have public beach access. The town’s options include scaling back the project or buying property for beach access. The agency told the town it would consider additional funds if the town developed more access, Fabbri said. “The state’s always looking for ways to enhance public access,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s the No. 1 option. My job is to present all the options that are available.”

The town formed a committee to review the beach project, but it has not met since the PRT decision on funding. “That is a meeting we need to have,” Fabbri said.

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