FOLLY BEACH - Huge waves kicked up by Friday's storm scoured and swept away newly poured sands on the east end of this island.
Homeowners who had worried whether the renourishment project would come quickly enough to save their homes now have lost much of the sand in little more than a month.
It's another kick in the gut to property owners, the city and taxpayers who have squabbled over the handling of the controversial, delayed $30 million project.
Army Corps of Engineers staffers say the sand did its job: protected homes.
Storm waves - gauged at more than 12 feet by offshore buoys - flattened the sand berm poured about a month ago, and flooded and eroded controversial gullies between homes and the public beach.
"When I got up Saturday morning, that big berm was gone that they built in front of the last three homes," said homeowner Stacey Weiss. "Whatever they did was such a waste of time."
Waves also tore at the west end of the island toward Kiawah Island, where the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission paid for its own $10 million renourishment last year. But park and recreation staffers say the erosion there wasn't significant.
On the east end, high tides again lap at bulwarks protecting those homes.
Mayor Tim Goodwin, who walked the east beach Monday after the storm, said he would talk to Army Corps managers about why the sand didn't last longer and what could be done.
"It looks pretty tough," he said.
But Goodwin is not likely to get a response he wants to hear. The storm was fierce enough that it yanked loose a section of renourishment piping in the seas that had been held by five anchors, and washed the piping down to Edisto Island, said David Warren, Army Corps Charleston district office project manager.
"We had a pretty darned good storm Friday. (Renourishment) sand doesn't stop erosion. It protects properties. We put the required amount of sand out there. The sand didn't hold up better because the beach is in worse condition than it was" before the last renourishment in 2005, Warren said.
Contractor crews were scheduled to smooth out the scarps of remaining sand by Tuesday, but there isn't much more that can be done under contract. The renourishment work is now underway farther down the beach toward the pier.
Sand doesn't stay put; that's the bottom line. But the rapid vanishing of the berm rubs salt into the controversy over the gullies and a larger controversy over the viability of the continuing project that calls for renourishment every eight years or as needed until 2043.
Since its start in 1993, costs have escalated over each successive renourishment and now have both federal and local officials leery. The last time the work was done, in 2005, the cost was $12 million - little more than a third of the current cost.
The gullies were left unfilled when the contractor stopped pouring sand at the "public" boundary. City officials and the Army Corps couldn't reach an agreement on whether the owners of 35 beachfront lots should have to sign over easements to the portions of their properties that are now beach, or pay an estimated $2.5 million or more for the work.
The gullies were not filled despite concerns that drainage and erosion exacerbated by them could undermine the renourished sand in front, compromising the ability to form dunes and potentially shortening the lifespan of the renourishment.
Retreating waves during the storm tore a large breach through the berm in front of one of the gullies.
Meanwhile, residents say this renourishment provided less sand than the last round. The Army Corps said less sand was used because there was less beach to work with. But that's partly because erosion worsened as the work was delayed at least a year beyond the need because of federal legislative budget posturing. Federal money pays for most of the work. The city pays a minor share.
After the last renourishment in 2005, passing hurricanes did enough damage along the same stretch that a patch job had to be done two years later - at two-thirds of the original $12 million cost. The area has been rapidly eroding since.
"Until they wrap the island with rock, they're never going to fix it," Weiss said. "It's just going to be fill (more sand) and fill and fill."
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