Flip-flop crowd, rejoice! Long-awaited project to replenish Folly's sand may be finished by June

A bulldozer operator with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. moves sand as the company works on the Folly Beach renourishment project.

FOLLY BEACH - Robin Bessent is about to watch her beach dune walkway disappear. She can't wait.

The overdue Folly Beach renourishment is underway. The dredge pumps began pouring sand Sunday night on the far eastern edge of the island toward the Morris Island Lighthouse. Eight-foot seas offshore stopped the work Tuesday, but crews were back at it Wednesday.

Bessent had to move that walkway inland some 20 feet as beach sands eroded from underneath. Now, renourishment sands will cover it - at least until the constant erosion bares it again.

"It's a very big relief, a very big relief to know (the renourishment) is coming," she said.

The project will have its impact on beach life, for awhile:

Beachwalkers will have to avoid the active work area.

24 hour-per-day pumping will have beachfront homes vibrating when the pipes are nearby.

Some nesting sea turtles likely will have to be relocated in the spring.

And, with the windy winter and early spring weather, the June finish date is far from certain.

"June is still our goal, in a perfect world. We just want to make sure we're done by the (tourism peak) Fourth of July weekend," said David Warren, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager in the Charleston district.

Meanwhile, the rumble has begun. Sand is being pumped from bottom shoals to a dredge 3 to 4 miles offshore, then through pipes to the beach. Crews will work each 1,000-foot stretch of beach for a few days, and the pipes will vibrate noticeably to those nearby.

But monitors are in place, and if the vibration exceeds a specified level, work will be slowed to bring it back down, Warren said. David Johanson, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. project manager, said he is not aware of any damage complaints from previous work.

Renters were in Bessent's home when the last round of renourishment went out on the beach in 2005, and they didn't mention any vibration bothering them, she said.

"Some people were more bothered by the noise of the bulldozers," she said about the machines' chirping back-up sirens.

The $30.7 million project is renourishing nearly all of the island's five miles of beach. The project will end at Folly Beach County Park on the western end, where the beach already has been renourished.

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.

The city has sought this round of work for more than a year because of accelerated erosion. Funding was delayed by political budget posturing until Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn became involved.

The delay chewed up both ends of the beach and had beachfront owners battling state regulators to protect their properties.

The current project 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. The district had to ask for more funds, and Folly Beach had to pay nearly $2 million more to cover its share.

The city is still negotiating with the Army Corps over whether it will have to produce easements the Army Corps is requiring for at least 35 spots and eight property owners, where the public beach has eroded back onto their private property. Getting those easements or paying for that renourishment share could cost the city another $2.5 million or more above the $5 million it already has paid.

Those easements weren't required for the previous two renourishments, Mayor Tim Goodwin said, and the current requirement "is being negotiated in the Washington area" by the city's Congressional representatives, he said.

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