Before getting into the business of marketing the coastal town on Monday, Pawleys Island Mayor Jimmy Braswell talked with the town’s Accommodations Tax Committee on the status of beach renourishment.
During a regular quarterly meeting on July 22, chairman Robert Levine asked Braswell to explain where the project stands in relation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Not only are the members interested because the island is their home, but having a wide, sandy beach is important to successful rentals of homes that generate Accommodations Tax revenue.
Levine said he “asked the mayor to brief us on the fiasco with the Corps of Engineers.”
Braswell said the Town had four storm events in recent years. “In 2018, we decided to do the (beach renourishment) project on our own.” A company called Maronex submitted the low bid, and the Town was close to finalizing a contract when it learned the Corps of Engineers had agreed to fund a plan that dated back to 2004.
Corps personnel from the Charleston office told Braswell and others that “a key part was y’all were shovel ready … and the (Corps) was going to waive a validation study.”
“That was a heck of a deal for us to do, and would save the town money,” Braswell said.
“We started down that path. Ryan (Fabbri, Town Administrator) was very diligent. He got the easements done. Then the project started slowing down.”
The Corps headquarters in the District of Columbia has said it would require a validation study. The costs have about doubled, Braswell said.
“We have email after email saying we don’t have to do a validation study. They’ve thrown us for a loop,” Braswell said.
Town Council members discussed this situation at their July 15 meeting, concluding that “maybe we should go on our own.”
Braswell said with the delays for the validation study, it could be “next year or the year after” before the project could be done.
“We are of the opinion we need to get sand on the beach, especially on the South End.”
Fabbri said one of the factors the D.C. office of the Corps is now taking into account is that the Pawleys Island project “protects one single row of houses. Myrtle Beach, and everywhere else, protects several rows.”
Committee member Betsy Altman asked, “If they turn you down, then what?”
“We will have to go on our own,” Braswell answered. “The truth is, they basically lied to us.”
Several committee members asked about the study.
“I don’t know their methodology,” Fabbri said. “They are not very transparent with how they figure this.” He added that the people in the Charleston office “truly want to do this. They answer to a regional office in Jacksonville, Florida. That office answers to D.C.,” Fabbri said. “They (Charleston office staff) believe it’s still going to happen.”
If it does, Fabbri continued, the Corps would still approve $10 million of what had been about a $14 million project. With costs almost doubled, the Corps would not increase the federal funds for the project.
A big part of the cost of the project is “staging” equipment and personnel at Pawleys Island. Engineering fees are projected to be several million dollars, and that would go into the $10 million figure. Those fixed costs could be as high as $8 million. “Two million dollars doesn’t get us much sand,” Fabbri said. It would be about 200,000 cubic yards, where the federal project with a Town add-on was projected to be about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand.
“Where we are”
Fabbri told the A-Tax Committee members that Council had set a target date for a decision as the Council’s September meeting.
“Most of the dredgers are already pretty much spoken for,” he said.
“The permits are good for five years. We have an engineered design. We could put it out for bids tomorrow,” Fabbri said.
Braswell said the Town has been in touch with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office. He had helped the Town get project approval back in 2004, but “we’re not getting as much response as we had hoped we would.”
As has been noted locally, turtle season has been quite good this year. Fabbri said “All nests have to be hatched.” The project couldn’t begin if the turtles are still active.
Whenever the project may be done, Braswell said, estimates are it would take three months to complete. The dedging equipment would operate 24/7, around the clock.
“If we do it through the Corps, we have a long-term benefit,” committee member Robert Hendriks said. “If we do it on our own, would we still be able to get the long-term benefit?”
Fabbri said yes.
The Corps plan calls for the major project to be done now, and every nine or 10 years to add sand to keep the “engineered beach” profile.
The Town would have to be in a financial position every 10 years to pay its portion of the beach renourishment in order to be able to get the federal funds that would cover a major part of the costs.
Over time, Fabbri said, an engineered beach could result in hundreds of feet of sand in front of the houses along the ocean.