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Renourishment to hit the beach in July

Amy Willis, a paralegal from Johnson City, Tenn., has booked an August vacation in Kingston Plantation just north of Myrtle Beach. But she might cancel it at the last minute - if she finds out the government will be working on the beach, replacing sand lost from erosion, while she's there.

"I am taking it into account, she said. "We'll just cancel and try and find someplace else."

Hoteliers in North Myrtle Beach, where the beach renourishment project will be taking place starting in July - amid the peak tourist season - are furious at planners on local and federal levels of the government, worried that the sounds and sights of big trucks and barges will drive people like Willis from the beach and their reservations.

But the hotels in Myrtle Beach have been spared. Because of a schedule shuffle, the contractor will start on the city's beaches in late August or early September, instead of spring through mid-summer as initially planned.

The renourishment project, which pumps sand from offshore onto the beach, has been done roughly every decade to keep the beach big enough for tourists and the coast strong enough for the high-rise buildings that line the coast. The cost of the $30 million project is being split among the state, federal and local governments.

The contractor, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. of Oak Brook, Ill., has already completed the stretch of beach in Garden City Beach. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the project, offered the contractor emergency work in a Mississippi River area that had been flooded.

So the company left town and will now come back to North Myrtle Beach in July, though local business owners want the project pushed until the fall, after the height of the summer tourist season.

"I'm right here on the ocean front on Ocean Drive trying to scratch a living out of the beach sand," said Harold Worley, a hotelier in North Myrtle Beach and an Horry County councilman. "Beach renourishment on these commercial beaches needs to be scheduled in off season. It's just common sense. It just needs to be done. Instead of them working to our schedule, we're having to work to their schedule. It's ridiculous."

The corps says the project cannot be pushed back because weather conditions in the winter make it more difficult or expensive.

Tourists have been trying to get information from the Army Corps of Engineers and the cities, and they have turned to online message boards to try to figure out when the project will be taking place in their area. The renourishment moves swiftly, staying on a particular part of the beach for only a couple of days.

But that's too many for some tourists.

"I'm sort of up in the air which hotel I'm going to book at this point," said Ellen Whaley, a financial analyst from Essex, Conn. "Part of me is like, will I go this year? But everybody else wants to go so I guess we'll go."

Whaley said she found out about the project on TripAdvisor.com, an online travel review site with forums for visitors. She's seen renourishment happen at home in Connecticut, and it's not pretty, she said.

"If you haven't seen it, it's quite an operation," she said. "Those are huge machines. They don't sit that far offshore."

Worse, some may choose to avoid the Grand Strand entirely. Willis said her family might go to Destin, Fla., if the beach renourishment coincides with their vacation.

Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said there is no evidence that the renourishment hurts business.

"The importance and benefits to the project can't be overstated but the timing is unfortunate," he said.

Worley disagreed.

"People just don't like to hear the beeping and the noise," he said. "They come to the beach to relax and you hear nothing but the waves splashing on the beach."


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Beach renourishment

North Myrtle Beach

Schedule | July through August

Sand | 750,000 cubic yards

Miles | 8.6 miles of beach

Myrtle Beach

Schedule | late August through October

Sand | 1.5 million cubic yards

Miles | 9 miles of beach

Garden City Beach and Surfside Beach

Schedule | completed

Sand | 750,000 cubic yards

Miles | 7.7 miles of beach

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