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South Carolina: Beach restoration hits a snag

Isle of Palms Administrator Désirée Fragoso recently made Councilmembers aware of a few of the obstacles involved with forthcoming dune restoration along a stretch of Ocean Boulevard.

Posted on August 16, 2023

While the City of Isle of Palms has recently secured a state permit and grant to initiate dune restoration between 114 and 304 Ocean Blvd., the refusal on the part of some property owners to play ball is creating a less-than-ideal scenario in Council’s efforts to protect against high waves and/or storm surge.

During the Capital Projects portion of City’s Council’s Aug. 8 workshop, Administrator Désirée Fragoso reported that numerous bids have already been received from contractors to deposit about 400,000 cubic yards of sand along the IOP beach area, along with an extra 150,000 cubic yards of sand to be trucked into Sullivan’s Island.

She further noted the approval of an SCRPT (South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism) grant covering 50 percent of construction costs on IOP.

A condition of receiving that government subsidy, however, is for the City to execute easement agreements with 21 private properties situated across the work area.

Of the 21 owners who were presented with the easement documents, only five have agreed to allow the City to access and pour sand on their beach parcels, according to Fragoso. Nine have flat-out declined signing the proposed agreements, while five hadn’t yet responded as of the date of the meeting.

“We have been advised that this is what the City’s position needs to be by our attorneys,” continued Fragoso. “The goal of the easement would be to allow the City to maintain it, repair it, protect it and prevent a property owner from eroding it or making changes to the dune after it’s been constructed by the City.”

An option has been offered to private land owners to finance — and perform — the work themselves via the enlistment of their own contractors. The other alternative, she explained, would be for the proprietor to balk at signing any agreement and therefore not be obligated to pay for restoration work.

Under that scenario, the unresponsive owners would see their properties skipped, which could threaten the integrity of dune structures, according to coastal engineers.

“It seems like we’ve talked about the need of developing a consistent policy and Councilmember (John) Bogosian suggested this is something that the administration committee take on. I agree that this is something that needs to be addressed and codified. Other communities have codified it, others have not. Some are a little wishy-washy and the others are not, and a lot of the beaches in our state are managed by the (U.S. Army) Corps,” maintained Fragoso.

“Not a lot deal with this situation like we do … and the Corps is very consistent in requiring permits and perpetual easements for the work that they do. Oftentimes, [they] do not give municipalities even the option of having owners pay for it. They won’t do a project unless they have 100 percent of easements from properties.”

The lack of total compliance by resident landowners had Bogosian wondering about difficulties the Council would encounter with bigger projects down the road.

Councilmember Jimmy Ward, on the other hand, brought up prior scraping projects on the island that were completed under emergency order in 2016 and 2017.

Fragoso confirmed the past public undertakings, but mentioned that the emergency order was prompted by a hurricane that had destroyed local dunes, forcing the state to declare disaster conditions in the area. This current proposal, she said, would consist of work done under a general permit instead of an emergency order.

Comments by Councilmembers Rusty Streetman and Scott Pierce suggested that the governing body afford City staff additional time to gather more property owner responses.

To that end, Fragoso communicated that once all parties involved are heard from, the City will then begin mapping out the restoration and collaborate with a contractor in the scope of minimizing the potential impact of “creating a bathtub,” which can occur when properties are skipped over.

Other capital renovations discussed at the Tuesday night workshop included the following items introduced by Fragoso:

• Phase 3 drainage updates at the 30th Avenue, 36th Avenue and 41st Avenue outfalls: Contractors are installing check valves, trash racks and grates on the junction blocks along 30th Avenue and should be completed soon. The 36th Avenue outfall will be mobilized after Labor Day. The 41st Avenue project is “right on track” for bids at the end of the month.

• Comprehensive Drainage Masterplan: Staff is meeting with the Davis & Floyd engineering group to update the firm’s executive summary and finalize a work report, which will be used as a guide for planning future drainage ventures.

* Public Dock Rehabilitation and Greenspace at IOP Marina: “We talked already about engaging ATM (Applied Technology & Management, Inc.) for the bidding and construction work. We anticipate being ready for bid by mid-September and hoping we get all the permits in place,” said Fragoso. On that note, the Council would need to finalize the redesign for the parking layout on the northside of the boat ramp. Included in this are T-dock repairs and marina dredging.

• Buildings and Facilities: There is a bid opening for exhaust systems in fire stations one and two. As for the City Hall refurbishment, staff has issued a request for “qualifications” in the interest of pursuing a renovation similar to what was previously completed at the Public Safety Building. On dog park improvements, the City is looking into to install a commercial-grade galvanized steel fence to the area. On the topic of underground power lines, Dominion Energy and Pike Energy are close to completion on the design of their 14th Avenue project entailing the placement of electric cables under pavement level for an entire section of road.

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