Town strug­gles to re­build beach after storms

Bat­tered by storms in back-to-back years, Edisto Beach strug­gles to find funds to fix berms

Tulsa World - - Our Lives - By Seanna Ad­cox

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Less than a year after Edisto Beach dug out from Hur­ri­cane Matthew, Irma lev­eled dunes that had been re­built 15 feet high, flood­ing the bar­rier is­land anew and fill­ing its road­ways with sand.

So now, fol­low­ing a nearly $19 mil­lion pro­ject that pumped more than 900,000 cu­bic yards of sand onto the beach, the town is hop­ing to re­build the berms with what it can scrape off the streets, since it's un­clear when more re­plen­ish­ment money might come.

“Ob­vi­ously, it's a costly fix, and it's not even a fix. It's just pro­long­ing the in­evitable. You're dump­ing sand in the ocean, that's what you're do­ing,” said state Sen. Har­vey Peeler, a long­time op­po­nent of beach re­plen­ish­ment.

Peeler, whose dis­trict is 200 miles from the shore, said his col­leagues have con­vinced him that South Carolina's coast­line needs pro­tect­ing, “but as a tax­payer, I just won­der if there's a bet­ter way.”

Un­for­tu­nately, costs are only ex­pected to rise. Bet­ter build­ing codes are re­duc­ing prop­erty dam­age, but in­creas­ing coastal de­vel­op­ment means there's more to pro­tect. And po­ten­tial ac­cel­er­a­tions in sea level rise and the fre­quency of de­struc­tive storms cre­ate ex­pen­sive un­cer­tain­ties, said Paul Gayes, who di­rects Coastal Carolina Univer­sity's School of Coastal and Ma­rine Sys­tems.

The sea al­ready has risen about a foot in the last 80 years off South Carolina, caus­ing reg­u­lar flood­ing in down­town Charleston.

“Think about just one more foot in ar­eas where there's no more room to give,” Gayes said.

A data­base track­ing sand re­plen­ish­ments since 1923 shows 2,092 projects at a to­tal cost of nearly $9 bil­lion in to­day's dol­lars. Florida has had the most projects at 495, then Cal­i­for­nia with 343, New Jersey at 325, North Carolina 251 and New York with 118.

South Carolina has done this 78 times be­fore, start­ing in Edisto Beach, in 1954. Its beach was re­plen­ished again in 1995, 1999 and 2006 — a pro­ject de­signed to last 10 years. Matthew's tough punch last Oc­to­ber added $5 mil­lion to the cost of a planned re­newal that started in Jan­uary.

Storms have bat­tered South Carolina's coast­line for three straight years, start­ing with Hur­ri­cane Joaquin, which stayed off­shore in Oc­to­ber 2015 but caused his­toric flood­ing while dump­ing up to 2 feet of rain over sev­eral days. Irma's 10-foot-high tide sur­passed Matthew's to be­come the third­high­est on state record, cov­er­ing Edisto's main road for a mile in 2.5 feet of sand.

Since 2015, leg­is­la­tors have des­ig­nated $35 mil­lion to­ward the state's share of re­pair­ing beaches along the en­tire coast­line, or $8 mil­lion less than the state's tourism agency re­quested. That was be­fore Irma.

“We have got to pro­tect the goose that lays the golden egg. Beach re­nour­ish­ment is part of that pro­tec­tion,” Repub­li­can Sen. Greg Hem­bree of North Myr­tle Beach said Wed­nes­day. “If you get a ma­jor hur­ri­cane or a big storm, it's go­ing to tear it up, but on bal­ance, it's worth­while.

Be­cause sand is es­sen­tial to the state's $19 bil­lion tourism in­dus­try, law­mak­ers should find a way to fund on­go­ing coastal main­te­nance, Hem­bree said.

“We wait un­til it's all torn up and have big-ticket projects ev­ery 10 years,” he said. “It's kinda like high­ways. If you do a lit­tle bit along and along, you don't have ma­jor ex­penses.”

Be­tween 1985 and 2015, more than $285 mil­lion was spent on 43 re­plen­ish­ing projects in South Carolina, with state taxes pay­ing about $48 mil­lion of that and fed­eral taxes $122 mil­lion. Lo­cal and pri­vate funds pro­vided the rest, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Parks, Recre­ation and Tourism.

Sand dredg­ing and pump­ing be­gins next month in North Myr­tle Beach as part of a $26 mil­lion “emer­gency” re­plen­ish­ing pro­ject ap­proved by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing Matthew's dam­age. Irma tem­po­rar­ily halted pump­ing on two other Grand Strand beaches in­cluded in that con­tract. Bids for Myr­tle Beach go out this win­ter. Whether any of th­ese beaches get more sand be­cause of Irma will de­pend partly on con­gres­sional fund­ing, ac­cord­ing the Army Corps of Engi­neers.

Of South Carolina's beaches, Edisto lost the most sand to Irma by far. But it could have been much worse if the re­plen­ished beach, sup­ported by dune fenc­ing and plants, hadn't been fin­ished in June. There was no se­ri­ous prop­erty dam­age, and Matthew washed far more sand into town, bury­ing most of a 3-mile stretch five feet deep.

“It's dis­heart­en­ing,” Mayor Jane Darby said. “But it did what it was sup­posed to do.”

“It looks like a large waste, but that's what it's there for — to mit­i­gate against dam­age,” Gayes agreed.

Still, he calls sand re­plen­ish­ing a “mid-term so­lu­tion to a long-term prob­lem.”

“We sim­ply can't do this ev­ery­where. It's too ex­pen­sive.”

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