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Pawleys Island: Scaled-back beach project gets on fast track
By Charles Swenson
A scaled-back beach nourishment project could start on Pawleys Island as early as March, widening a beach that has been eroded by storms each of the last three years and shoring up its appeal to summer visitors. The town’s beach committee this week approved an $11.8 million project that will put 725,000 cubic yards of offshore sand on 2.7 miles of beach. Town Council will take up the committee recommendation at a special meeting next week.
The town initially planned to put 1.1 million cubic yards of sand on the beach at a cost of $13.3 million. It applied for a $6.2 million grant from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to fund the work. The agency approved just over $4 million, saying the middle of the island was ineligible because it lacks public beach access. In addition, bids from contractors for beach projects in other parts of the state were higher than the town’s cost estimates.
The town plans to spend $5.4 million from its beach fund for the project. It will borrow another $2 million that will be repaid with revenue from the town’s 3 percent tax on short-term rentals.
And the town will be able to get an additional $460,000 from the state by marking 12 roadside parking spaces: eight at First Street on the north end and four at Hazard Street on the south end. It is existing parking, but the town didn’t get credit for it in the PRT review, said Town Council Member Rocky Holliday, who chairs the beach committee. “We just have to put a sign on it,” Mayor Bill Otis said.
The $11.8 million project is the most the town can do without another source of funds, such as a tax or assessment, Holliday said. Pawleys Island has no municipal property tax. It is funding a project to move electric and cable television lines underground partly through voluntary contributions from property owners. The town also expects to fund the $600,000 cost of a new Town Hall with private donations.
The beach committee agreed in principle with the idea of no additional cost to property owners, although committee member Henry Thomas questioned whether the funding formula was equitable. “Are we using north end funding to put sand all over the island?” he asked, adding that property owners who don’t rent their homes and collect accommodations tax aren’t contributing to the project.
Committee member Brian Henry, who owns the Sea View Inn, said even if only part of the beach is nourished, the entire island will benefit. “The Pawleys brand starts to suffer” when the beach disappears, he said.
That’s already happening, committee members said. Alan Hill said some of his friends are talking about going to Florida beaches that have more dry sand at high tide. Fred Collins heard complaints from renters at Pawleys Pier Village this summer that there is no beach at high tide.
“We’re all in this boat together,” Holliday said. “If the beach goes away, that’s everybody’s property value on the island.”
Committee member Johnny Joseph pointed out that the 725,000 cubic yards in the proposed project is less than the volume of sand that engineers initially said is needed to rebuild the beach. And that initial estimate was made before the losses from hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
Losing sand to a storm doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone forever, said Steve Traynum, an engineer with Coastal Science and Engineering, which is designing the town’s project. The estimate of 180,000 cubic yards lost in Irma last month is probably closer to 100,000 cubic yards because some of that sand remained in the intertidal zone. Engineers estimated it would take up to 830,000 cubic yards to bring areas such as the south end to the same profile as the north end, where the beach is accreting. “It wasn’t sand lost over 20 years,” Traynum said.
The project will create an “engineered beach” that the town will have to monitor and maintain. It will qualify for federal reimbursement to restore the beach if it is damaged in a federally-declared disaster. After three storms in three years, the town needs to get into that program, Holliday said. “We have the potential to get this done before the next storm season,” he said.
The recommendation to Town Council also includes a non-binding poll of property owners. The town did that before undertaking the utility project. It delayed an early project that got 60 percent support rather than the 70 percent the council was looking for. But the beach committee was formed to represent a range of interests on the island. Its vote to move forward was unanimous. “We should move as quick as possible,” Joseph said.
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