Corps looks at 2025 for repairing south end beach
Sand eroded from the beach on the south end of Pawleys Island in a hurricane last September may not be replaced until 2025, town officials were told this week.
“We were operating under the assumption that there would be a design phase this summer,” Mayor Brian Henry said, and work be done in the spring of 2024. “That’s not going to happen.”
“Correct,” said Dudley Patrick, project manager for the Corps of Engineers.
The Corps plans to place 150,000 cubic yards of offshore sand on 1.3 miles of beach at an estimated cost of $8 million. That will restore the beach to the ideal profile to protect property from damage such as Hurricane Ian, which made landfall at North Island on Sept. 30.
But before the agency can do any work, or even solicit contractors for the work, it needs easements from 113 oceanfront property owners that will allow it to build and maintain the beach.
The town obtained easements from 110 owners. Three filed legal challenges to the town’s effort to condemn easements. A Circuit Court judged quashed the condemnation in April 2021 saying, “the defects in the way the Town went about initiating and pursuing its condemnation action require the action to be invalidated.”
But he said the town could bring a new condemnation action.
Judge Michael Nettles also awarded the property owners attorney’s fees and costs, but the owners objected that the $18,708 was “grossly inadequate.” They sought $121,278. One of the owners, Barry Stanton, is a lawyer who represented himself and his neighbors. He did not seek fees for himself.
The award is now on appeal to the state Court of Appeals. So is the fee award in a second condemnation attempt by the town. Judge Ben Culbertson awarded $13,017. The owners sought $53,694.
The town completed a $14.8 million renourishment project in March 2020 that it funded itself and with a state grant. It later entered into an agreement with the Corps that made the completed project a federal project for future funding and repairs.
Stanton has disputed that agreement, calling it in comments submitted to Town Council this week “the illegal and invalid putative 50-year contract attempted with the Corps of Engineers with no council vote and secretly signed by the nonresident ex-administrator in 2020.”
Henry used this week’s meeting with Patrick to confirm the state of the agreement with the Corp.
“Are we in a partnership agreement with the Army Corps?” he asked.
“I did my research. You’re clearly a partner in this,” Patrick said.
Henry also confirmed that the four council members also wanted to be part of that. They said they did.
“It sounds like to me that the lack of these three easements, at a minimum, is going to result in the homeowners on the south end having to endure another hurricane season that they otherwise would not have to,” Council Member Rocky Holliday said. “It’s a real impact to the homeowners on the south end, a serious impact.”
The spring of 2025 isn’t a certainty, either.
Patrick said the design team is tracking the progress with the easements, because if there is an “appreciable delay” between design and construction “we would have to go back and look at the conditions on the ground from an engineering and environmental perspective.”
And with two hurricane seasons between now and the winter of 2025, “all bets are off that we’ll get through them without any impact,” Patrick added.
The 2020 renourishment placed 1.1 million cubic yards of offshore sand on just over 3 miles of beach, with more than half going on the southern third of the island. The town wants to use funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair hurricane damage to the northern two thirds of the island. The state will provide the required local match, so the work won’t cost the town anything, Henry said.
But he said the town wants to do that work in conjunction with the Corps project on the south end in order to minimize the cost of mobilizing dredging equipment.
“Is it fair to say these easements are keeping us from doing that?” Henry asked Patrick.
Patrick said he couldn’t speak to work outside the federal project area, but in that area, “real estate is the impediment.”
Patrick confirmed for Council Member Guerry Green that the easements from the property owners would only allow access for construction and maintenance of the renourished beach.
“I also understood him to say the town might be able to come up with some wording that might be more agreeable,” Green said. “What would you modify that everybody could live with?”
“We’ll follow up on that for sure,” Henry said.