Folly Beach gets $20M in federal money for new project

File - The dunes that protected the front beach homes on the east end of Folly Beach are about gone, in some areas the shore line is with in 50 yards of East Ashley Ave. (Brad Nettles/ 12/28/12

Brad Nettles

FOLLY BEACH — Somewhere in “various funding pots,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has found more than $20 million to renourish the eroded beach here.

The Army Corps announced the appropriation Tuesday, shortly after the offices of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Jim Clyburn confirmed it.

The work could begin in the fall, at the close of sea turtle nesting season, and be completed in time for the 2014 summer season. Only weeks ago, it was presumed that the soonest the money could be appropriated was the 2015 budget.

The funds come out of the current year’s budget that originally provided only $400,000 to study the project.

As the appropriation was made, eroded beachfront properties on both ends of the island are in jeopardy of being condemned.

“Oh, what a relief. I’m in ecstasy,” said Stacey Weiss, who has had to build a sea wall underneath her house to protect it from high tides, after the beach eroded to her door. “I was shocked that there was even a question that they would find the money. This island was just going to end up in the ocean.”

The appropriation was made after two years of effort by local and state officials who “kept talking and talking,” in the words of Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, and by some federal legislators in a delegation that had been divided on freeing up federal funds snarled in political budget posturing.

The money has been sought since storm waves from Hurricane Irene severely eroded both ends of the island in August 2011.

In the ensuing months, Hurricane Sandy and a series of other storms had worsened the damage.

“I don’t know how Senator Graham and (the other legislators) pulled it off. All I can say is thank you to the South Carolina delegation for their work,” Goodwin said.

In a news release, Graham thanked Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary in charge of the Army Corps, for “working with us to get these funds reprogrammed.”

As part of a lawsuit settlement, the federal government is obligated to pay for the renourishment every eight years or as needed, because of erosion caused by the Charleston jetties.

The last renourishment was done in 2005.

The situation looked so dire last winter that the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission couldn’t wait any longer, and diverted $3 million from other funds to do its own renourishment of the popular county park on the island’s west end. The park, on a spit at Stono Inlet, had been all but overwashed before the work was completed this month. The park plans to reopen July 3.

The commission, though, is out the $3 million; under its permit it can’t recoup renourishment costs from the larger project funding. Director Tom O’Rourke said that didn’t bother him. In fact, as a property owner on Folly Beach, the commission also is contributing to pay the local match funds for the larger project.

“It’s two different issues,” O’Rourke said. “One is a quality of life issue for Folly Beach, the other is a beachfront owner. We have the opportunity to recoup our (renourishment) cost from park fees.”

The project will be carried out similar to the 2005 renourishment, said Lisa Metheney, Army Corps assistant chief for project management for the Charleston district. Sand will be dredged from 3 miles offshore and spread along the same footprint as in 2005.

“Folly is the people’s beach. We have no locked areas, no gated communities. It’s good to see the people’s beach is coming back,” Goodwin said.

As for now, headed into the tropical storm season, some places are worse than others, he said. “Keep those prayers coming that we can hang in there, not lose any more than we have already lost, until we start pumping sand in November.”

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