WILD DUNES - Poking its sparkling head up at low tide is the first bit of bright news in a while for beleaguered homeowners on the disappearing beach of this island resort.

A long-sought offshore sandbar "reattachment" is finally making an appearance. Sand is beginning to build up on the beach in front of it. That's the fix expected to stabilize - for now - the highly erosive Dewees Inlet eastern tip of the island, where the resort's signature golf course hole and a line of condominiums are on the brink of the sea, with only sandbags to stave off storm tides.

Meanwhile, just ashore of the sandbar, a brighter bit of news might be gathering sand in front of one of those condominiums, the Seascape Villas. An experimental, 88-foot-long "wave dissipation system" appears to be working.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control just approved extensions of permits for the condominium sandbags and the dissipation system - giving the sandbar and the experiment a tacit nod to keep going.

The golf course, on the other hand, might have run out of mulligans. Sandbags have been stacked along the fringe of the Links Course's 18th hole since July, and the last permit extension for them expired Dec. 31. DHEC has cited the course for violating the permit, and a February hearing is scheduled.

In 2007, while the controversial 2008 renourishment project permitting labored its way through the regulatory process, half of the golf course's 18th green washed away, and the Ocean Club had waves washing into the carport underneath the complex. The club, like the nearby condominiums, was facing condemnation. Tens of thousands of sand bags were piled to protect them, then washed away in storm tides, littering the coast and nearby marshes for miles.

Within two years of the renourishment, high-tide surf again began scarping away sand from the condos and golf course; more sand was hauled from the inlet beach to protect them until not enough remained. Then more sandbags were piled.

All along, the idea was that the offshore sand bar eventually would attach to the beach, bringing more sand.

The "reattaching" sandbar is a piece of what should be the very eastern tip of the island that was carved away by the channel shifting in Dewees Inlet - exacerbating erosion on the shifting beach where the golf course and condominium complexes sit.

Its reattachment was anticipated when the $10 million renourishment took place in 2008 on the beach. But the slowly moving sands again stranded the properties before the sandbar could find its way in. The sand is now expected to move ashore by the fall, when crews will haul it farther up the beach to restore the eroded tip.

"It's not quite there yet," said Steven Traynum, scientist for Coastal Science and Engineering, which is handling the resort beach renourishment. But it's moved 600 feet in the past year and is now so close to the beach that "you can actually see it at low tide," and is pushing sand ashore ahead of it, he said.

The wave dissipater is a study project dreamed up and erected by carpenter Deron Nettles under the auspices of The Citadel. It's a set of panels designed to break up the storm waves that cause the worst beach erosion, but allow water and fine sand to pass back and forth between the pipes, protecting the dunes while simulating the flow on an unobstructed beach.

Unlike the sea wall it resembles, the assembly is made up of portable components. It can be built to size, installed along the dunes as needed, when a hurricane, a Nor'easter, or even just an astronomical high tide is on the way. Then it can be removed and the beach left as beach.

Unlike sea walls, or even sand bags, the pipe wall doesn't stop the sand flow, so ideally it won't exacerbate erosion on either end. That's what the study is attempting to determine.

So far, the structure is illegal under state law, except as a study. But that might soon change. Not only has it protected the dunes behind it so far, it's added sand to the dunes.

John O'Hare, of the Seascape homeowners association, is talking with local leaders and legislators about rewriting the law.

"I don't want (the system) going away," he said. "It actually accretes sand. It works. It's a marvel to me."

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