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Officials scramble for funding to replenish SC beaches

A man makes his way between the eroded dunes of Pawley's Island. The King tides and stormy conditions this past month have taken their toll area beach, with erosion evident in many areas along the Grand Strand. Oct. 14, 2015.
A man makes his way between the eroded dunes of Pawley's Island. The King tides and stormy conditions this past month have taken their toll area beach, with erosion evident in many areas along the Grand Strand. Oct. 14, 2015. jlee@thesunnews.com

Severe weather events this summer pummeled Grand Strand beaches and washed away hundreds of acres of sand, ripped apart walkways and stairs leading over fragile dunes, and caused significant erosion to the natural barriers that protect inland areas from coastal flooding.

The historically early arrival of a tropical storm in May took a significant swipe of sand, but it was the rare trifecta in recent weeks of storm surge from Hurricane Joaquin, king tides, and nearly 2 feet of record rainfall that contributed to the loss of nearly 80 percent of the sand that replenished North Myrtle Beaches during the last renourishment project in 2008.

“This time around, we lost a bunch of sand,” said Pat Dowling, spokesman for North Myrtle Beach.

“In Cherry Grove, the high tide beach is pretty much gone. The storm surge from Joaquin, as it passed by, did not help either,” Dowling said.

In Myrtle Beach, city spokesman Mark Kruea said the shore and 30 dune walkways received damage “ranging from minor to not-so-minor.”

“The beach is flatter than before, mainly due to the astronomically high tides during the two-week period,” Kruea said.

“The dunes did the job they were supposed to do,” Kruea said. “Visitors really shouldn’t notice any issues in Myrtle Beach, with the exception of the beach looking a little different.”

Erosion from recent storms has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand across the entire state’s coast, according to South Carolina Beach Advocates.

All of us have our fingers crossed about this next king tide.

Pawleys Island Mayor William L. Otis Jr.

With a rare second king tide predicted to roll across the Grand Strand from Oct. 25-30, officials say they are worried that battered beaches will take a more severe beating and warn that property owners beyond the dunes and in marsh areas should be on alert.

Pawleys Island Mayor William L. Otis Jr. described the erosion from the earlier king tide as “significant” -- dunes are now 6 to 15 feet closer to houses severely reducing the level of protection for the property during future high tides and storms.

“All of us have our fingers crossed about this next king tide,” Otis said.

FEMA officials toured the damage with Otis on Wednesday to begin the laboriously long process of determining whether the federal government will reimburse islanders for necessary repairs.

Conditions there became so dangerous during the rough weather that three beach access points were closed. Although numerous walkways were damaged, Otis said repairs have since been made.

“The beach is still in good shape. However, in very high tides there will be little or no beach left because the tides are coming close, if not on the dunes. On high tides like the king tides coming at the end of October, we will get further damage, I’m sure,” Otis said.

Officials are in the process of finalizing a beach damage assessment for severely impacted areas in Garden City and the 14-mile stretch of beaches within Horry County’s jurisdiction, said spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.

Our sand tends to migrate south. When we’ve lost it in some storms, Myrtle Beach will gain sand in some areas and some is probably from North Myrtle Beach.

Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach spokesman

In North Myrtle Beach, serious erosion was initially caused when the record tides forced the ocean onto the dunes. The damage was compounded when the rains came, propelling the floodwater from residential areas towards the ocean. Waves sliced through dunes as high as six feet creating new paths where none previously existed.

“We need to get some sand on the beach to continue to preserve the dunes, which obviously protect structures,” Dowling said. “It’s not at the point where structures are threatened, but what we don’t need is another Joaquin to come along.”

Getting that accomplished will be a challenge.

FEMA regulations bar the agency from providing disaster funds to replace sand for any federally funded project administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Consequently, nearly 9 miles of coastline that falls within the Grand Strand Storm Damage Reduction Project are not eligible for the emergency funding, Dowling said.

The Army Corps does have funding set aside for flooding and coastal emergencies, but officials are still waiting to learn whether that money could be made available.

Meanwhile, officials are exploring whether they can bump up the timing of the next planned renourishment project that was scheduled to being in 2018 to reduce the overall cost.

The 2008 project to replenish the beaches with 750,000 cubic yards of sand cost nearly $11 million — city and state coffers kicked in more than $3 million of the total price tag.

“Our sand tends to migrate south,” Dowling said. “When we’ve lost it in some storms, Myrtle Beach will gain sand in some areas and some is probably from North Myrtle Beach — it’s just a function of the mechanics of the ocean.”

“I suppose we should go down there one day with some pickup trucks, and take it all back,” Dowling said.

Contact Audrey Hudson at 843-444-1765.

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