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With federal funds for repairs, island’s beach still faces challenges

Hurricane Ian flattened the dune built on the south end of Pawleys Island in 2020

Posted on March 14, 2023

The Army Corps of Engineers will pump up to 200,000 cubic yards of offshore sand onto the south end of Pawleys Island next winter as part of a $14 million project to repair damage from Hurricane Ian. The agency’s announcement last week fulfilled a promise town officials made when they agreed to let the Corps participate in the beach renourishment project that they initiated in 2019.

“It’s a good thing we got in the program,” Mayor Brian Henry said. “We wouldn’t have seen that if we hadn’t got in the program.”

But the federally-funded project is almost certain to require that the town obtain easements from three property owners who have challenged the renourishment in court. The Corps is working with the town on the easements.

“We would like to have that. It’s going to be a challenge,” said Jeff Livasy, chief of civil works for the Charleston District.

It is also likely to face a challenge from property owners at Prince George who say the town’s renourishment caused erosion on their beachfront.

The town completed a renourishment project in March 2020 that placed 1.1 million cubic yards of sand on about 3 miles of beach. It paid for the $14.8 million project with funds it had accumulated from a local accommodations tax, a $5.6 million state grant and a $2.8 million loan.  Although the Corps had agreed to undertake renourishment on 1.2 miles of beach on the south end, the town decided to move ahead on its own rather than risk a delay.

After the sand was in place, the Corps agreed to fund $764,000 in beach grass and sand fence on the southern portion of the island, making that a federal project for future repairs and maintenance.

“It was very fortunate with the timing,” Livasy said.

The plants and fencing were installed last March. Hurricane Ian made landfall on North Island on Sept. 30. There was still one more application of fertilizer planned for the beach grass, Livasy noted.

Instead, the Corps had a survey crew on the south end a few days after the storm to measure how much sand had been lost.

“There was a lot of impact even though it was only Category 1,” Livasy said.

Over half the sand in the 2019-20 renourishment project was placed on the southern end of the island. That area is eligible for federal funding because of the public beach access provided at the south end parking lot and streets in the Birds Nest section.

The volume in the Corps project is the amount of sand that will restore the beach to the agency’s specifications.

“It was built to a higher elevation than the federal template,” Livasy said.

The town project, designed by Coastal Science and Engineering, created a berm 6 feet high.

The work was funded through the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, signed in December by President Biden. The Corps delivered its work plan for the funds to Congress last month.

The work also includes $56 million for placing up to 1.5 million cubic yards of sand on beaches from North Myrtle Beach to Garden City and $27 million for placing up to 900,000 cubic yards on Folly Beach.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Hibner, the South Atlantic Division commander, and staff from the Charleston District stopped by Town Hall last week to let officials know about the Pawleys Island funding.

“It was great reassurance that we’ll try to get the beach back to its pre-storm condition,” Dan Newquist, the town administrator, said.

The town spent $35,000 last year to scrape sand from the beach to rebuild a dune on the north end of the island from Pawleys Pier to Second Street. It hopes to get 75 percent of that back from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After spending $6 million from its beach fund for the renourishment, the town worried it didn’t have the money to maintain or perform future renourishment. Once the agreement with the Corps was signed, Henry said the town stayed in constant contact with the agency about repairs following Ian.

When it first considered a joint project, the town obtained easements from 110 of 113 beachfront property owners on the south end that the Corps required for it to work in the area. The town moved to condemn easements from the last three owners.

The owners challenged that in state court. A judge ruled in their favor, saying the town had failed to follow the proper procedure for obtaining the easements.

Henry said the town plans to try again.

“Maybe there’s a way to get a temporary easement,” he said.

The beach grass and sand fencing that the Corps funded last year skipped the three lots. That’s not an option with sand placement.

“They don’t want to leave gaps,” Henry said.

The town is also facing lawsuits from property owners at Prince George who say the southern migration of Pawleys Inlet that has created erosion along their shoreline was caused by the 2020 renourishment. The state and the town’s contractors are also named in the suits.

“The Army Corps has not weighed in, nor have we had any conversations with them,” Henry said.

The renourishment project received federal as well as state permits. The Corps may update its environmental assessments before it starts work on the repair project, but it won’t need a new permit, Livasy said.

“I totally understand the concerns of Pawleys Island about their beach,” said Bud Watts, who owns the northernmost house on Prince George and 1,065 acres west of Pawleys Creek. “They can’t just address their own concerns without regard to their neighbors to the south.”

He filed suit  last year asking the court to order that Pawleys Inlet be restored to its former location. Since then, the inlet has continued to move and Watts is concerned about the proposed Corps project.

“We know what we think will happen with all that sand,” he said. 

Watts hopes the Corps project will provide an opportunity to restore the inlet, repair the erosion damage and establish an inlet management plan.

If it doesn’t address the downdrift impacts, “I will take every step I can to stop the project, out of self-defense,” he said. “This is an existential act for us.”

A Circuit Court judge is currently reviewing a motion from the state to dismiss his suit and two others. He would like to reach a settlement.

“This renourishment isn’t going to be the last one,” Watts said.


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