Folly Beach renourishment now on track for January start

Sections of Folly Beach have been hit hard by erosion and officials are waiting for the beginning of the beach renourishment. Buy this photo

— Enough sand to fill 450 Olympic-size swimming pools will be pumped to this eroding beach starting in January.

By the numbers

$30.7 million Project cost

1.5 million Cubic yards of sand

24/7 Hours per day/week working once project starts in January.

9-10 Miles of dredge pipe needed to run two lines 3 to 4 miles from offshore sand borrows, or bars. The dredge boat will pump through one pipeline, then move to the other to save time. The east end of the island will be renourished first.

5 Miles of Folly Beach beach

Army Corps of Engineers

Within a year or two, it likely won’t be enough — if the previous work is anything to judge by.

A long-sought renourishment project is now expected to begin placing equipment by the end of December. Sand is expected to be pumping in early January and finished by June, if the weather holds.

Every stretch of the beach is to be renourished short of the Charleston County park, which was renourished in a separate project this year. The work is scheduled to start even though the city still does not have an estimated $2.5 million in easements the Army Corps of Engineers said it needs to complete the work. The Folly Beach attorney is in ongoing discussions with the Army Corps about whether the city will have to produce those easements, said Mayor Tim Goodwin.

“It will probably end up being a political decision (made) somewhere in Washington,” he said.

The Army Corps is requiring easements for at least 35 spots, and from at least eight property owners, where the public beach has eroded back onto their private property. The Army Corps has told the city it must have the easements to include the properties; the easements essentially would turn what was private property into public beach.

“Everybody continues to work on it,” said Lisa Metheney, Army Corps assistant chief for project management for the Charleston district. But the project will go ahead without a resolution, meaning that, as things stand, the city would be billed for renourishment work on the lots.

“Our number one mission is to provide protection for the infrastructure and structures on the beach, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Metheney said.

Goodwin said two earlier renourishments were completed with similar “pocket beaches” and the city didn’t have to pay extra. He is confident that’s how it will end up this time, he said.

Reclamation


Beach renourishment is costly, and becoming more controversial as costs rise. Critics say it’s a temporary solution at best. The federal government committed in 1993 to renourish Folly Beach until 2043 as needed, or about every eight years, to settle charges that the erosion was exacerbated by the Charleston jetties disrupting the flow of sand along the shore.

Cost estimates at that time were about $115 million over the life of the settlement, according to a 1994 “The Reconstruction of Folly Beach” study. The costs so far — about halfway through — are nearly $80 million and rising. Two full renourishments have taken place. Within a year or two of each, erosion ate out spans of the renourished sand, requiring a series of spot renourishments.

Meanwhile, some beachfront owners used the renourished sands to reclaim former properties that had been lost to erosion. Those properties are among the most severely eroded today.

Erosion historically has reshaped the island, larger and smaller, in cycles like other barrier islands. The jetties are estimated to have worsened that by at least one-third and maybe as much as half again. Before Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the city already had lost much of West Arctic Avenue, and a rock revetment had been piled along the beach to protect remaining properties. The revetment worsened erosion across the beach, putting it virtually under water at high tide.

“The revetment proved useless during Hugo. The (12-foot) storm surge overtopped the structure, caused major damage to beachfront houses, and totally swept away a popular seafood restaurant,” the U.S. Geological Survey reported after the storm.

Erosion


The current renourishment project originally was slated to start in November but was delayed when the lowest bid of the once-$20 million project came in at $30 million-plus, and the district had to ask for more funds. Folly Beach had to produce $1.37 million more for its matching share of that extra cost. The city’s share now stands at about $5 million, Goodwin said.

The city has sought this round of work for more than a year because of accelerated erosion. Funding was delayed by political budget posturing; the Army Corps moved already-budgeted money to do the work after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn became involved.

The delay chewed up both ends of the 5-mile-long beach and had beachfront owners — some of them in the reclaimed properties — battling state regulators to protect their properties.



Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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