A Line in the Sand: Nourishing South Carolina's Beaches
VOLUME 18, NUMBER 3, WINTER 2003 PDF
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A Line in the Sand: Nourishing South Carolina's Beaches
beach communities want to stop erosion in its tracks. How long can they
hold back the sea’s advance?
Lyons, mayor of Edisto Beach (pop. 641), says he’ll make a stand
against erosion and a rising sea, despite having seen large chunks of
his town’s oceanfront disappear underwater. “I know you can’t
fight Mother Nature,” he says. “But I’m going to fight
it as long as I’m here.”
Sections of Edisto Beach’s
shoreline have eroded with alarming speed, as much as 40 feet in a single
year. Two years ago, a beachfront cottage was severely damaged during
a nor’easter. The storm surge knocked down the seawall, undermined
the house’s pilings, and cracked the structure in half, leaving
the oceanfront portion drooping into the sea.
Helen M. James, the cottage’s
owner, later had it torn down. The house was too expensive to repair,
although it had been in her family since the 1930s, and she spent every
James’ now-empty lot
is just a sliver of land between the sea and Palmetto Boulevard, the state
highway. High tides routinely wash up to the lot’s sandy crest,
and spring tides pour across to the highway. Yet James says she plans
to build a new seawall and house there. “My architect told me that
if we move the house and seawall back (from the oceanfront), it would
be all right. I think it will be fairly safe. If I worried too much, I
High tide floods pilings beneath
numerous cottages along an eight-block stretch of the town’s northeastern
shoreline. Now Mayor Lyons wants the South Carolina legislature to help
fund a multi-million dollar beach nourishment project for an adjacent
state park that could protect these properties from erosion.
In its bond request package
for the 2004 fiscal year, the state Parks, Recreation and Tourism agency
will ask the legislature for $4 million to nourish Edisto Island State
Park. Such a project would also help supply sand for the town’s
beach, which is immediately south of the park.
Sand along Edisto
Beach moves north to south with downdrift currents, as it does along most
of the South Carolina coast. If the town also ponied up $2 million to
nourish its shoreline, the combination of state- and locally-funded projects
could save many Edisto Island beachfront homes from future storm damage,
says geologist Bill Eiser of the S.C. Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource
The state, however, has been
mired in a multi-year budget crisis. “It’s hard to say if
the state will have that kind of money, considering the budget demands
for courts, prisons, and education,” says Chris Brooks, OCRM deputy
commissioner. “It’s going to be a real long shot.” But
Brooks is a strong supporter of nourishment as an investment in the state’s
beaches for tourism and economic development.
Edisto Beach is a typical oceanfront
community in only one respect. People constructed homes on the shoreline
with an expectation that the land would not disappear.
Rie Rone, James’ daughter,
recalls Edisto Beach when she was a girl. “I can remember in the
late ‘50s walking down a boardwalk across the dune to reach the
beach.” Now the boardwalk is gone, the dune is gone, the house is
gone, and the beach itself is gone at high tide.
James, who lives most of the
year in Sumter, hopes that a potential nourishment project would widen
Edisto Beach and protect her home.
“A lot of us old-timers,” she says, “really value the
Many beach communities have
similarly turned to nourishment to hold back severe erosion and rising
sea level. Projects have mined sand from pits on land and trucked it to
the eroded beach; or dredged sand from offshore or a nearby tidal inlet
and pumped it onto shore.
Studies show that artificially
widening a beach can reduce damages from storm surges and waves during
hurricanes and nor’easters. Nourishment projects also compensate
those communities where federal navigation projects, such as harbor jetties,
have robbed sand from downdrift beaches.
But critics argue
that nourishment is often short-term, expensive, and wasteful, drawing
development to vulnerable locations.
Who pays for beach nourishment?
Taxpayers in places like Greenville and Spartanburg and Omaha and Kansas
City have helped fund the vast majority of nourishment projects. Who benefits?
Beachfront property owners and beachgoers clearly benefit. Beyond that,
there is plenty of debate.
South Carolina planners point
out that wide sandy beaches are the central attraction of the state’s
coastal tourism, which draws billions in revenue each year, and supports
local businesses that employ thousands. “If you look at the tourism
industry and the money it brings in, it makes sense economically to nourish
beaches,” says Steve Moore, OCRM director of planning.
If tourism declined, so would
the enormous tax stream from visitor spending at local, state, and federal
levels. This loss would particularly hurt county and state budgets, and
taxpayers would have to make up the difference.
Not true, says Orrin Pilkey,
a geologist and director of the Duke University Program for the Study
of Developed Shorelines. “If you just let the shoreline (recede),
the beach will always be there.” That is, the beach would retreat
naturally. “It would be very good for tourists. Some houses might
fall in, but the beaches would remain.”
During the 1980s and 1990s,
South Carolina’s beaches were nourished at an average cost of almost
$3 million a year from all sources, says Brooks. Localities or private
communities paid the entire bill in a few instances. The federal government,
through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, supported most projects with
matching funds provided by the state and localities.
Brooks argues that beach tourism
and coastal growth have been the only positive areas in South Carolina’s
economy over the past several years, and “healthy beaches are a
key to this success.” Through nourishment, he says, “We are
protecting our most important economic asset.”
During the 1990s, total state
expenditures for nourishment projects were $25.5 million. Yet South Carolina
has not funded any projects for the past three fiscal years. And while
federal funding for nourishment nationwide has risen from $79 million
in 1995 to $135 million in 2002, desperate oceanfront communities are
fiercely competing for those funds.
After nearly 20 years
of nourishment projects, the state’s beaches “reached a peak
in 1999 in what we call ‘healthy beaches’ based on the amount
of sand in the (oceanfront) profile,” says Brooks. The percentage
of “healthy beaches” has declined slightly over the past three
years, largely because state funding has diminished, he says.
Pilkey, however, dissents.
An artifically plumped-up beach is not a “healthy” shoreline,
he argues. In his view, a healthy beach is one that can migrate naturally.
In any case, several developed
South Carolina beaches still have localized hotspots of severe erosion:
Garden City, DeBordieu Island, Daufuskie Island, Hilton Head Island, Folly
Beach, Sullivans Island, and Isle of Palms.
Edisto Beach has one of the
worst erosion problems in the state. Sand that used to reach the town
and the park becomes naturally trapped north of Edisto Island.
The irony is that nearly all
Edisto Beach cottages at risk were constructed after the S.C. Highway
Department nourished that shoreline during the 1950s and built groins
to hold the material in place. The highway department reportedly used
mud and crushed oyster shells from inland pits to fill in the shore. The
heavy oyster gravel made the coastline stable for decades, and dozens
of homes were built there. But no one would use this material for beaches
today because it’s too coarse.
Now the town of Edisto Beach
hopes that the state legislature will fund a nourishment project that
could provide some storm protection for dozens of homes drawn to that
location because of another nourishment project decades ago.
Edisto Beach’s dramatic
erosion is unusual; beaches distant from tidal inlets rarely retreat at
40 feet in a single year. But its retreating shoreline could foreshadow
the long-term fate of many beaches in eastern North America.
Nourishment alone will not
stop an inexorable rise of the sea. Over the past 80 years, sea level
has risen 10 inches at Charleston, measured by a NOAA monitoring station
located in the harbor. Even a tiny rise in sea level can threaten huge
numbers of coastal properties. “It doesn’t take much of a
sea level rise to flood a great deal of land,” says James T. Morris,
marine biologist at the University of South Carolina.
As a rule of thumb, a one-foot
rise in sea level translates into 100 feet of shoreline retreat, all other
factors being equal, according to Stephen P. Leatherman, director of the
International Hurricane Research Center & Laboratory for Coastal Research
at Florida International University in Miami.
Some coastlines are also sinking
due to natural factors such as compaction of sediments, shifting geological
faults, and intensive pumping of groundwater and fossil fuels. These factors
frequently cause far swifter shoreline erosion than does sea level rise.
Some South Carolina beaches
are retreating slowly, while others are accreting—that is, building
out. Accretion and erosion occur naturally along the entire coast. In
most places, change is invisible. In other places, it is dramatic and
volatile. A stretch of beach near a tidal inlet can migrate inland hundreds
of feet over a few years, then accrete a similar distance over a few years,
and then retreat once more. A house with hundreds of feet of beachfront
one summer can have seawater washing underneath it the next.
Most South Carolina beaches
are relatively stable over the short term. But the long-term trend is
toward higher seas and eroding shorelines.
Sea level rise will probably
accelerate in the next hundred years, the great majority of climate scientists
agree. The Earth’s average surface temperature is expected to warm
more rapidly in coming decades, primarily due to a combination of natural
warming and increasing greenhouse gases from manmade pollutants.
As ocean water warms, it expands,
pushing the sea higher up shorelines. Ice caps, ice fields, and mountain
glaciers will likely continue melting, providing increased freshwater
Even the most skeptical climate
scientists acknowledge that the next century’s rate of warming will
be more than double the past century’s. Worldwide sea level, therefore,
is expected to rise by about 19 inches on average by 2100, according to
the World Water Council, an international water agency.
Some communities could see
dramatic shoreline changes long before that. As sea level rises, large
storms will increasingly cause erosion and greater damages to structures
along the oceanfront. But shoreline retreat won’t be uniform. There
probably will be even more severe extremes of erosion in some areas, while
other areas will hold relatively firm, says Paul Gayes, a marine scientist
at Coastal Carolina University.
“The beach is not responding
uniformly to sea level rise now,” he says. “Some areas are
going to be more heavily stressed, and the ones on the brink now are probably
the ones that will be most vulnerable in the future.”
Tourists swarm to sandy beaches
around the world, dipping into the sea from California to Hawaii to Australia
to southern Europe and North America from New York to Texas. The seashore
is still the world’s favorite getaway spot. An ocean view, hot sand
at your feet—that’s the modern paradise fantasy for vacation
Advertisers employ beaches
as sexy backdrops, as the ultimate exotic venue for escape and freedom.
American popular culture celebrates youthful hormonal excitement at the
ocean’s edge. Think of the Beach Boys and Where the Boys Are, bikinis
and muscle beach and spring break and “California Dreamin’.”
Millions upon millions want to stay—for a brief idyll or for the
rest of their lives—close to the sea. That’s one reason why
many oceanfront properties are among the most expensive vacation real-estate
Only a few generations ago,
sensible people built modest shacks on southern oceanfronts, because homes
there were likely to get damaged or knocked down by big storms.
But since the 1950s, southern
beaches have become densely built with high-rise hotels and condo complexes,
plus expensive second homes and vacation rentals that resemble mini-castles
jacked up on pilings. Low-key beach communities continue to be transformed
into crowded, bustling tourism centers.
Consumer demand for vacations
and retirement homes drive this explosive growth. But government subsidies
have also encouraged costlier oceanfront development. Federally subsidized
flood insurance is “an incredibly large subsidy” for all coastal
property owners, says Robert F. Becker, director of Clemson University’s
Strom Thurmond Institute. “But in some beachfront locations, the
most important subsidy could be beach nourishment.”
A recent study by the NOAA
Coastal Services Center found cost information on 242 of 333 nourishment
projects completed since 1950, funded by federal, state, county, local,
and private sources. Cost information is difficult to locate on the other
91 projects, which were small or have exclusively state or local funding.
About $2.5 billion (in current
dollars) was poured into beach nourishment from 1950 to 2002, the study
showed. Since the 1950s, nourishment funding has risen sharply every decade,
with the exception of the 1980s when it dipped slightly. During the decade
of the 1960s, it cost taxpayers about $95 million (current dollars) to
replenish beaches. In the decade of the 1990s, nourishment projects cost
“Through beach nourishment,
the government is subsidizing development in these dangerous places,”
Oceanfront housing density
has increased soon after sand has been poured onto some beaches, Pilkey
adds. In several communities in North Carolina (Atlantic Beach, Carolina
Beach, Nags Head, and Kill Devil Hills) and South Carolina (Garden City
and Folly Beach), numerous single-family homes have been torn down and
replaced by multi-family apartment buildings and condominiums within several
years after nourishment projects were completed, Pilkey says.
Along with federal flood insurance,
beach nourishment draws more intensive development to the seashore, most
experts agree. And because many millions of dollars worth of sand has
been pumped on beaches, more valuable structures are at risk from large
storms. Taxpayers in the future will be asked to pay for replenishment
projects to protect those buildings, says Pilkey.
Oceanfront property owners
are the greatest beneficiaries of nourishment. “We have seen property
values along the beach rise dramatically and fairly quickly after nourishment
projects,” says Andy Coburn, associate director of the Program for
the Study of Developed Shorelines.
Since a federal/state project
was completed on Folly Beach in 1993, for example, the value of beachfront
lots has risen dramatically. Oceanfront lots that sold for $150,000 a
decade ago now sell for as much as $850,000.
But even back-island properties
have benefited. Lots a few blocks inland that cost $30,000 in the mid-1990s
now can be sold for $200,000.
“Look at the property
values at Folly Beach, and you can see a tremendous change through the
whole island since renourishment,” says Tim Kana, president of CS&E,
a coastal engineering firm in Columbia, who argues that since beach-town
dwellers benefit most, they should pay a lion’s share of nourishment
It’s difficult to say
whether nourishment is the most important driving force behind skyrocketing
property values on Folly Beach. But no one likes a severely
Before World War II, most U.S.
beaches were undeveloped or lightly developed. Beaches moved naturally
inland when the sea drowned the shore. Property owners lost their houses
or moved them.
But starting in New Jersey
in the 1960s, beachfront property owners began installing erosion-control
structures to protect their investments, and landowners in other states
quickly followed suit, armoring the shoreline with seawalls, bulkheads,
and similar hard structures.
The problem with seawalls is
that they allow waves to scour away sand and prevent beaches from naturally
migrating inland. As a result, the beachfront disappears underwater.
By the 1980s, many South Carolina
landowners would have lost their homes to storms and erosion if they hadn’t
built new seawalls and repaired old ones. But the public lost access to
the dry beach in some areas. So coastal regulators discussed how to balance
the public’s right to enjoy the oceanfront against the need of private
landowners to protect their property.
Policymakers debated whether
to create a policy of retreat. The idea was that new buildings would be
significantly set back from the ocean, and construction of new seawalls
and repair of old ones would be prohibited.
In 1988, South Carolina was
one of the first states to attempt an orderly retreat from the sea, when
the S.C. General Assembly passed the Beachfront Management Act. The 1988
law established a narrow no-construction zone immediately behind the front
beach dune, though farther landward from this “dead zone”
people could build a home. But the “dead zone” rule, intended
to set structures substantially back from the sea, did not last long.
In 1986, developer David H.
Lucas purchased two oceanfront lots on the Isle of Palms for $975,000.
However, any structure built there would be in the no-construction zone
under the 1988 law. Because he was prohibited from building on his lots,
Lucas argued that the 1988 law had illegally “taken” his shorefront
lots. The state of South Carolina had rendered his property worthless,
Lucas pointed to the Takings
Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which says, “[N]or shall private
property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Lucas
took the state to court, demanding compensation for his losses.
Lucas won in the U.S. Supreme
Court in 1992, and a year later received a settlement of $1.55 million
from the state, including the transfer of the two disputed lots to the
state, which later sold them.
Yet even before Lucas v. S.C.
Coastal Council was decided, the South Carolina legislature again revised
the beachfront management law. This time, the legislature got rid of the
“dead zone” restrictions, making it possible for some landowners
to develop their oceanfront property if they have special permits.
Did the Lucas decision and
the state law’s revision eviscerate South Carolina’s capacity
to retreat from the ocean? No, says Brooks. “We’re continually
making decisions on beachfront development. We’re moving structures
back as far landward as we can on the lot and downsizing them.”
But many coastal parcels are shallow, lacking room to move back, Brooks
and economically difficult to back off of a highly developed coastline,”
says Moore. “People don’t want to give up that front row of
As part of its beachfront law,
South Carolina still prohibits new seawalls; none has been constructed
since 1988. An existing seawall cannot be rebuilt if two-thirds of it
has been destroyed by a storm. (By 2005, the threshold falls to 50 percent.)
The principle behind the seawall
provisions is simple. As storms destroy older seawalls, beaches naturally
migrate inland. Beach migration eventually undermines oceanfront homes,
which collapse or have to be abandoned.
Over the past decade, apparently
just one South Carolina oceanfront building has lost its seawall. That
one belonged to Helen M. James. Now she can probably rebuild the seawall
because of a shortcoming in state law, coastal regulators say.
It is a little-known fact that
landward sections of many South Carolina beachfront lots are outside of
state authority in regard to seawalls.
Where you can build on the
beachfront depends on several factors. First, you need to find the baseline,
which is an invisible line running along the ridge of the front beach
dune. If a seawall has replaced the dune, or the dune is gone, then the
baseline is where the dune would have been.
Once the baseline is established,
a second invisible line of jurisdiction—the setback line—is
drawn. The setback line is usually defined by the local erosion rate.
That is, the setback line is generally a projection of where the baseline
will probably be in 40 years if erosion continues at the current pace
along a particular beachfront. If a beach is eroding at a rate of one
foot per year, then the setback line is 40 feet landward of the baseline.
If a beachfront is stable or expanding seaward, then the setback line
still has to be located a minimum of 20 feet landward of the baseline.
The setback line is important
to understand for several reasons. Seaward of this line, property owners
can build homes limited to 5,000 square feet of space. They cannot build
large commercial structures. Moreover, they cannot build seawalls, bulkheads,
revetments and other erosion-control structures parallel to the shoreline.
One problem is that the setback
line sometimes does not reflect the dynamic reality of a beach. For instance,
Edisto Beach’s long-term erosion rate, measured over decades, is
actually quite slow—only a half-foot per year. But its short-term
erosion rate in many areas is explosive—40 feet in a single year.
As a result, the setback line at Edisto Beach is located in some frequently
Another weakness of state law
is that the setback line marks the landward limit of the state’s
If a beachfront lot is deep
enough and a property owner has high ground to build a home and seawall
more than 20 feet inland from the baseline, then in some cases he can
build those structures in the lot’s landward area, if a locality
will allow it. And most localities do.
In other words, many property
owners who have lost seawalls can simply retreat from the state’s
jurisdiction and rebuild them under local authority.
“There are many places
where people can drop back and build a house and squeeze in a seawall
outside of our jurisdiction,” says Eiser. This was a shortcoming
of the original law, he says. “Every oceanfront lot should have
been in our jurisdiction.”
As a result, Helen M. James
can probably build a new home and seawall on a disappearing beach. “I
don’t think we would refuse a request to build a seawall,”
says Laurie Sanders, zoning and building code administrator for the town
of Edisto Beach. “The town has no rule to stop a seawall.”
With such limits on their jurisdiction
and authority, South Carolina coastal managers strongly support nourishment
as a practical method to protect beaches. But this is a choice, most experts
agree, that may have a limited time horizon. In a not-so-distant future,
sea levels could rise so high and storm damage could become so expensive
that nourishment would be ineffective or impractical in certain locations.
“Some places are getting to the end of this temporary solution,”
No one really knows when it
will become impractical for many beaches to nourish, Eiser says. “By
periodically nourishing you can hold off that imperceptible sea rise that
occurs over decades.” Still, you can’t hold it off forever,
In 1996, the Clinton administration sought to phase out federal backing
for nourishment. The George W. Bush administration has wanted the same
thing. Both administrations called for states and localities to bear an
increasing share of shore replenishment costs.
Yet it didn’t work. Over
the past seven years, coastal states and communities have lobbied successfully
for additional nourishment funds for major projects from Congress. Since
1996, Congress has funded at least six new 50-year beach maintenance projects
around the country, says Marlowe, a lobbyist for American Shore and Beach
Association, an influential organization representing many shoreline communities.
Federal taxpayers fork over 60 percent of a project’s cost, while
states and localities pay 40 percent.
“We have not been stopped
on any project,” says Marlowe. “There are more federal projects
coming down the pipeline in more areas of the country that ever before.
We’ve gotten everything we’ve asked for.”
Current annual funding for
50-year federal beach replenishments, says Marlowe, is at least twice
that of the pre-1996 era.
Yet there remains a huge hunger
for sand. “If you doubled the federal appropriation for nourishment,
you wouldn’t satisfy the demand for it out there,” says Kana.
“So local communities have to take the lead because they have the
most to gain from these projects.”
Many beach towns argue they
are too poor or too small to pay several million dollars for an effective
project. Besides, they support tourism, a cash cow for county, state,
and federal budgets. Therefore, towns should receive county, state, and
federal help in paying for beach replenishment. State and federal government
should fund nourishment just as they do construction of highways and bridges
that support the tourism industry, local officials say.
“Two-thirds of South
Carolina’s tourism industry’s revenues come from the coastal
area,” Mayor Lyons points out. “Yet the state has not put
aside funds for nourishment to protect that investment.”
Beach towns, however, have
discovered that erosion can move faster than Congress or state legislatures.
Communities must spend six
to ten years on planning, feasibility studies, and lobbying before gaining
congressional approval for a 50-year federal nourishment project. That’s
why some erosion-prone towns, desperate for sand, have given up on Congress
and funded their own projects through accommodations taxes, special property
tax assessments, neighborhood fees, and other local measures.
Edisto Beach has set up a committee
to study “avenues for creative financing” to pay for nourishment
on its own, says Mayor Lyons. The town has saved funds from its accommodations
tax, but it could not alone pay $4 million to $6 million for a useful
project, he says. Edisto Beach lacks the property tax base or intensive
tourism business to service that level of debt.
Edisto Beach is not unique
in this regard. “There are many, many beaches that do not have the
economic base for nourishment,” says Robert G. Dean, a coastal engineer
at the University of Florida.
On the East Coast, modest cottage
communities are an endangered species. Property taxes on beachfront land
have skyrocketed. The cost of hazard insurance continues to go up. Only
the wealthy or those who can draw lofty rental prices can afford to pay
high costs of owning beach property in many places. Beachfronts have been
gentrified, and many smaller cottages have been replaced by more valuable
Now some communities like Edisto
Beach find themselves in a dilemma: they are too small to pay for their
own projects but unable to capture enough state and federal funds for
nourishment. “South Carolina has a diversity of beaches,”
says Brooks. “It has the glitz of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head,
and it has unique family beaches like Edisto, Folly, and Pawleys Island.
A lot of people search out that kind of beach, and it would be a shame
to lose it.”
Edisto Beach faces special
circumstances because of its exceptionally high erosion rate. But eventually,
most beaches along the East and Gulf coasts will migrate inland too far,
too fast for nourishment to save buildings from damaging storms. This
migration could take numerous decades in many locations, while a few beaches
might face this dilemma in a matter of years, says Gayes.
To preserve South Carolina’s
beaches over the long-term, oceanfront landowners will probably have to
retreat from rising ocean waves. But, politically and economically, that
seems unlikely over the short term. So, for now, nourishment is the only
practical answer. Many coastal geologists, however, say that we are only
postponing an inevitable retreat, and the longer we wait to pull back,
the more costly and painful it will be.
Where will we find
the sand to nourish beaches over the next several decades? And how much
more will it cost?
In South Carolina, sand resources
for nourishment projects are surprisingly scarce and not uniformly distributed,
says Paul Gayes, a marine scientist at Coastal Carolina University. Sand
for nourishment has to be a certain size. Moreover, transporting sand
is so expensive that some sand deposits only a few miles offshore can
be cost-prohibitive to pump onto the shoreline.
sand is placed on the beach, it tends to become redistributed and dispersed,
making it difficult to recycle. “So we’ll need to find more
resources over time,” Gayes says. Future sand resources will probably
be more numerous but smaller and farther from the areas to be nourished.
All these factors will result in increased costs for future nourishment.
South Carolina has only recently
begun mapping the location of sand resources along the coastline.
In 1994, the S.C.
Sea Grant Consortium, in partnership with and with funding provided by
the U.S. Geological Survey, began the Coastal Erosion Study. The ultimate
goal is to establish a “sand budget” for the coastline.
Phase I, completed in 1999,
focused on a surveillance of the mid-section of coastal South Carolina.
This research, coastal managers say, has already provided useful information
about the degree to which some South Carolina beaches are eroding and
where some potential nourishment deposits of sand are located. Scientists
are also studying offshore and nearshore geology, historical movement
of the shoreline, and sediment volume and transport rates.
Researchers are compiling this
information into an Internet-based GIS database that will be available
to resource managers, beachfront communities, consultants, educators,
Phase II, begun in 2000, has
expanded the research to include initial studies of remaining portions
of the South Carolina coast, as well as preliminary work on northern Georgia
coast. Using geophysical surveys, repeated beach profiles, and innovative
technologies such as high-resolution sonar imagery, the study’s
researchers are searching for locations that have beach-quality sand.
For more information, visit the Phase II Web site at http://camelot.coastal.edu/
To their surprise, scientists
have discovered a giant shoal just a few kilometers offshore parallel
to the Grand Strand shoreline. This massive shoal, which likely comprises
beach-quality sand, could be a remnant of an ancient river channels that
flowed north to south roughly as the Waccamaw River does today.
Scientists are studying processes
that could be transporting significant volumes of sand from Grand Strand
beachfront to this shoal, thereby increasing shoreline erosion. If dredged
appropriately, however, the shoal might provide a renewable source of
sand for nourishment projects.
Researchers on the project
represent Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, Clemson
University, University of South Carolina, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography,
Georgia Southern University, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and State
University of West Georgia.
Neighbor versus neighbor
All nourishment projects should
be locally funded, some experts say, because those who benefit most should
pay for replenishment.
Local responsibility would
have the added benefit of eliminating funding controversies over beach
But even locally funded projects
can cause hard feelings over money.
Some residents of private communities are battling over who should pay
for beach nourishment to bulk up eroding shorelines. Because private communities
lack public beach access, they can’t get federal or state money
for nourishment. Landowners must pay the entire bill.
At DeBordieu, a private community
in Georgetown County, a seawall guarding eight homes from severe erosion
needs repair, and the retreating beach must be nourished if those homes
are to be saved.
Meanwhile, most of DeBordieu’s
shoreline is healthy and wide. Yet all property owners of DeBordieu had
to help support a $2 million nourishment project in the winter of 1998.
All property owners were given
a “special assessment” on a sliding scale that made beachfront
dwellers pay the highest rates. But those who owned property on the wide
beach section had to pay rates as high as those on the eroded area.
“That everybody here pays for nourishment irritates me,” says
Paul Huray, who with his wife owns two condominiums at DeBordieu located
on a wide section of beach. “I studied the area before I bought,
and now (the landowners on the eroded area) want me to pay for their mistake.”
For the 1998 project, Huray
paid $10,000 in the special assessment for two pieces of property.
In October 2003, the DeBordieu
Colony Community Association requested a permit for a nourishment project
to rebuild the beach again, drawing sand from the entrance to North Inlet.
Costs and benefits
The town of Edisto Beach eventually
hopes to gain a 50-year U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nourishment maintenance
project funded by Congress.
If Congress agrees, the federal
government would pay 60 percent of the cost of periodically pumping sand
onto the seashore for half a century; state government and localities
would share the rest of the bill.
Before Congress can authorize
one of these projects, a study must prove that the economic benefits of
wider beaches for storm protection outweigh the long-term cost of pumping
sand onto the beach and monitoring the project.
First, the Corps of Engineers
studies the value of beachfront property that would be damaged in a storm
under current eroded conditions. Then the agency compares the value of
property that would be damaged if the beach were replenished, creating
a buffer from a storm surge. If replenishment would save, say, $300 million
worth of beachfront property, and the long-term cost of the project is
considerably less, then a community can argue to Congress that the project
should be funded.
In other words, the Corps of
Engineers has to illustrate that a town has enough oceanfront property
to warrant a multi-million-dollar sand replenishment project.
Would Edisto Beach, with its front row of modest cottages, qualify?
“Some communities don’t
have enough oceanfront development to justify federal nourishment projects,”
says Andy Coburn, associate director of Duke University Program for the
Study of Developed Shorelines.
But Joe Jones, chief of planning
for the Corps of Engineers Charleston District, says, “We have just
as many projects in (low-density) communities as (high-density) communities.
We are prone to have more projects in single-family beachfront communities”
than those with high rises.
and Web sites:
Beach Nourishment: A Guide
for Local Officials.
A report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coastal
Services Center, undated. http://www3.csc.noaa.gov/beachnourishment/acknow.htm
Dean, Cornelia. Against
the Tide: The Battle for America’s Beaches. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1999.
Kana, Timothy W.
Coastal Erosion and Solutions: A Primer. Columbia, S.C.: Coastal
Science and Engineering, undated. http://www.coastalscience.com
Lencek, Lena and
Gideon Bosker. The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth. New
York: Viking, 1998.
Pilkey, Orrin H.
and Katharine L. Dixon. The Corps and the Shore. Washington,
D.C.: Island Press, 1996. http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2006/05/corps_oped.html
Annual State of the Beaches Report. April 2003. Department of Health
and Environmental Control-Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management.
U.S. Corps of Engineers Charleston
District Office. http://www.sac.usace.army.mil/