Despite good news on some other items, members of the public heard not-so-good news July 15, about the Town of Pawleys Island’s long-awaited beach renourishment project. Some people understandably felt glum about the news that the project faces the possibility of having to wait through another storm season before work could begin.
Mayor Jimmy Braswell and Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri told Town Council members that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a study about cost-benefit ratios for the multi-million dollar beach renourishment project.
About a year ago, the Town learned that a beach renourishment plan that had been on the shelf for more than 10 years could be eligible for significant federal dollars. Not only would the project mean a savings to the Town over what had been a plan to fund the project itself, but it also had a carrot of 50 years of ongoing beach renourishment with significant federal dollars available.
Now, Braswell and Fabbri said, the Corps is looking at its higher-than expected costs and is figuring out how much future benefit there would be from spending the money to dredge sand from offshore and put it back on what is to be an “engineered” beach.
Right now, the Corps estimate looks like it might be $1.60 return for every dollar spent. The Corps would prefer that ratio to be more like $2.50 per dollar spent.
Part of what causes the glum feeling is that the Town had previously been told – in writing – that its project would be exempt from this study.
Also, the Town initially had wanted to do its self-funded project sooner, but agreed to wait until this Fall in order for the Corps to have time to prepare for the project, seek bids and determine a result. The cost-benefit ratio study could mean a delay of as much as another year.
In the aftermath of several hurricanes and flooding events, the Town and property owners on the island wanted the work to begin by this November.
Fabbri said the earlier cost estimate from the Corps was for $10 million in federal funds for the project. Now it appears that the cost estimate has gone up to $17 million or $18 million. If that’s the case, the Corps may only provide the $10 million it had earlier agreed to pay. Based on the higher estimated costs, that might only pay for about 300,000 cubic yards of sand, rather than about double that amount in what was proposed earlier.
Fabbri said “There are only about seven dodgers that would do our project. It’s all the same guys that would do the project, whether we put it out (for bid), or if the Corps does it. I think they come back with higher costs because of the BS and red tape,” he said.
“I’m not saying that this is bad,” Fabbri said. “I’m just saying that this is going to hold us up. It’s at least delayed for two or three months.”
After more discussion, Council decided it would contact U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-7 and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-1, to seek their support for the renourishment project as the Town had expected it to be.
They will also send out a letter to property owners explaining the delay and ask them to contact their own local-area Congressmen to support Rice and Clyburn.
“Let’s just say, if we put it to bid in September we could be looking at the end of the year or even the beginning of next year,” Fabbri said. “There could be a point where we could say, thanks for the offer, but we’re going to go ahead on our schedule.”
Councilman Rocky Holliday proposed establishing “a drop-dead date. If we don’t have an agreement, we will go ahead on our own.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Braswell said.
Following further discussion, Fabbri said “I would say by the September Council meeting, if they don’t know anything further, then we need to really look at it.”
“If it doesn’t work, then we would say we’re going to do our own thing.”
“If we had done that, and gone ahead,” Fabbri continued, “we would have an engineered beach by now.” As it is, he said, the Town is facing another storm season without putting more sand on the beach.
Braswell noted that “It’s the federal government, but I do feel like we’ve been led down a primrose path. We’ve done everything we said we were going to do.’