Pawleys Island rebuilds dunes for third time in three years, prepares for beach renourishment

Pawleys Island rebuilds dunes for third time in three years, prepares for beach renourishment

PAWLEYS ISLAND, SC (WMBF) - The town of Pawleys Island hopes to be next in the Grand Strand for beach renourishment.

Town leaders are hopeful that renourishment would help lessen future storm damage to the town.

Pawleys Island Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said he hopes to have Army Corps of Engineers permits for the project by the end of this year. His hopes are that beach renourishment on the island would start at the beginning of 2018.

The island suffers from severe beach erosion, and it's quickly diminishing with each storm. Due to a small beach, many of the island's dunes have washed away during weather events like Tropical Storm Irma.

All dunes on the island's south side were destroyed after Irma hit Monday.

"Especially in the south end, you'll see there's no dune existing," Fabbri said. "So, if we get another high tide or we still have six weeks of hurricane season remaining, if we were to have another storm in those next six weeks and those homes don't have a dune between their home, it could be very catastrophic for those homes."

For the third time in three years, Pawleys Island is mobilizing trucks to start dune rebuilding. The town rebuilt dunes after Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, Hurricane Matthew last year and Irma.

Fabbri said the town also suffered damages during South Carolina's last major ice storm. He added it's uncommon for Pawleys Island to suffer this much weather damage.

Before Hurricane Joaquin, no major beach work had been done since Hurricane Hugo in the late 1980s, Fabbri said.

Most homes on the island are elevated, and weren't damaged from storm surge. However, renters reported two to three feet of sand underneath the homes after Irma passed through.

"Just the wind blowing in so hard that it blew water in through the windows and through the door, so we had wet carpet and just some stuff like that. And underneath the house probably a foot-and-a-half, two feet of sand, where we were normally parking," Pawleys Island home renter David Chapman said.

According to Chapman, he and his wife were moved to a home in Garden City during Irma before returning Wednesday. He said the home lost electricity during the storm.

Fabbri said the town is in a good financial position to pay for beach upkeep. He explained Joaquin cost about $125,000 to rebuild the dunes, and Matthew cost $325,000.

"I expect Irma to be somewhere between there," he said.

However, the town has a $5 million fund saved from accommodations tax to pay for beach renourishment.  Fabbri expects $500,000 to be left in the fund when the work is done.

The accommodations tax is from a 3 percent tax on short-term rentals on the island, which has been in effect since 1998 and is restricted to beach upkeep use.

"Sand is gold here," Fabbri said.

No new sand is being brought in to rebuild dunes. Instead, it is taken from low-tide areas and brought up to build dunes. Fabbri said the project's timeline depends on tides.

"It's all based on the tide though. So there's a lot of things we can't ... we don't know what's going to happen. So, we can only work at low tide because we want to take the sand that's down in the low-tide area and push it up. So, at high tide water's up, they can't be up there working. So they're out there working pretty much four hours before and after low tide."

In addition to erosion and dune damage, the south side's Springs Avenue is also closed until further noticed. The avenue was inundated with sand by the storm surge Monday.

South Carolina Department of Transportation crews are working to clear the road and bring that sand to store at the south side's beach access. That sand will be used to rebuild dunes. The beach access will be closed about a month, Fabbri said.

Dune walkovers are also in the process of being fixed. Many homes' walkovers are without sand underneath, or are broken off at the bottom. Most walkovers were just rebuilt within the last year.

Fabbri explained some people think the island is in bad condition based on social media pictures. He said that's not true at all and that Springs Avenue is the only area closed due to storm damage.

No private property saw damage, he said.

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