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Consultant updates Pawleys Island on sea level rise adaptation plan

Elko

Nicole Elko of Elko Coastal Consulting speaks to the Pawleys Island Planning Commission on Aug. 5, 2022. Mike Woodel/Staff

PAWLEYS ISLAND — Pawleys Island residents should look to coastal resilience in preparation for rising sea levels and changing coastal conditions.

Nicole Elko, president of Folly Beach-based Elko Coastal Consulting, stressed coastal resilience in her Aug. 5 presentation to the Pawleys Island Planning Commission. Elko was presenting her in-progress town plan for sea level rise adaptation.

The coastal resort town of 130 residents hired Elko in April to develop such a plan in hopes that it would be in good position to obtain grant money for adaptation strategies. In a half-hour presentation and question-and-answer session, Elko touched upon a theme of resilience to changing coastal conditions.

"This concept of resilience is where we need to position ourselves to be ready to apply for grant funding," Elko said. "To be ready to talk to the county, to the state and to federal agencies that are really giving out a lot of funding for communities like y'all to get yourselves into a more resilient position."

Coastal resilience refers to communities building the ability to "bounce back" after hazardous events such as hurricanes, coastal storms and flooding, rather than simply reacting to impacts, according to the National Ocean Service website, oceanservice.noaa.gov.

Coastal resilience was developed in 2007 through a public-private partnership between The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other organizations as a program to examine nature’s role in reducing coastal flood risk, according to the website, coastalresilience.org. Coastal Resilience was first developed with town and villages on Long Island in New York to address coastal hazards.

As Elko noted, considerable funding is available for the town to pursue. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will award $140 million in grants this year for coastal resilience, she said.  

Pawleys Island finds itself in a precarious position amid forecast sea level rise as it is situated on the Waccamaw Neck in a thin strip along the Atlantic Ocean. A recent survey of 269 town property owners showed that 46 percent were "extremely concerned" about flooding on the island, and not one property owner showed no concern at all.

The adaptation strategies Elko proposed in her presentation included capital improvement projects for storm water management, a large-scale plan for marsh restoration and nature-based solutions such as living shorelines.

A living shoreline is a protected, stabilized coastal edge made of natural materials such as plants, sand or rock, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, fisheries.noaa.gov. Unlike a concrete seawall or other hard structure, which impede the growth of plants and animals, living shorelines grow over time.

"Natural infrastructure solutions like living shorelines provide wildlife habitat, as well as natural resilience to communities near the waterfront," the NOAA website stated. Living shorelines are a cost-effective technique for coastal management.

"Incentivizing natural, nature-based techniques like living shorelines is something I'd really like to explore with y'all," Elko said. "I think there is some good potential for that on Pawleys."

Elko's presentation included a timeline of the plan's development. Delivery of a draft plan is projected for November.

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Mike Woodel reports on Georgetown County for The Post and Courier. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2018 and previously worked for newspapers in Montana and South Dakota.