Construction will begin next month on the newest ocean outfalls in North Myrtle Beach and in Myrtle Beach.
The improvements will help keep ocean water near beaches cleaner and reduce the time the affected beaches need to be closed, according to officials.
North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling said the $9.5 million project in the heart of the city at Main Street is aimed at reducing bacteria levels in the surf by removing current drainage pipes and replacing them with pipes that dump the stormwater 1,200 feet away from shore. Construction will last through the winter, with completion targeted for the end of April or early May.
“We do these projects so we can gradually ensure bacteria levels are as low as possible,” Dowling said.
To the south, Myrtle Beach will begin work after Labor Day on an ocean drainage pipe at Fourth Avenue North, said spokesman Mark Kruea. The $8.1 million project is the fourth in Myrtle Beach.
Rain events push pollutants into stormwater which ultimately runs to the ocean which leads to high bacteria levels and sometimes swimming advisories or beach closures, Dowling said.
“When you have these rain events ... that cause beach closures that’s when you get bad press nationwide,” Dowling said. “It’s a lot of money, but if you consider all the things that could happen it’s best to just do the project.”
Much of that bad press comes once a year in a report by the National Resources Defense Council, which repeatedly calls beaches in Horry County among the dirtiest in the nation. This summer, the nonprofit environmental organization ranked South Carolina at 26 of the 30 states along the nation’s shores which include the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes in beach water quality.
The NRDC has given credit to North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach for working to improve water quality with the outfalls.
“These projects, which cost millions of dollars per ocean outfall, have created significant reductions in the amount of fecal indicator bacteria found in beach water where they have been implemented,” according to the NRDC.
That’s not the only goal of the new drainage system though.
“It’s part of the overall stormwater management system,” Kruea said. “It’s a way to direct rainfall in a way that doesn’t create problems ... it drains those low lying areas that have a tendency to turn into a pond in heavy rains.”
The installation also removes multiple pipes that pour water directly onto the beach. Kruea said the new pipe at Fourth Avenue North will lead to nine pipes being removed from the beach, while the drainage reconstruction at 14th Avenue North removed 11 stormwater pipes. Kruea said travel near Fourth Avenue North shouldn’t be affected by the work and the project is expected to take as long as 10 months to complete.
In North Myrtle Beach, preliminary digging for utility locations within the Main Street Horseshoe will occur in the coming weeks. The Horseshoe, which is a parking lot at the ocean end of Main Street, will be closed for the duration of the project starting Sept. 23. Ocean Boulevard at the intersection with Main Street will also be closed during January and February 2014, with additional closures the following winter between Second Avenue North and Third Avenue South.
Full completion actually will take two years, with construction occurring in the offseason for minimal impact to traffic flow and tourism. The design of the Horseshoe also will change.
“The Horseshoe will not look as it does today,” Dowling said. “It will have a new design and features.”
That design and the features have not been created yet, but the city’s engineering, planning, and parks and recreation staff are expected to come up with the plan for the Horseshoe the eventually will be presented to North Myrtle Beach City Council, and the public will have an opportunity to provide input.
This is the fifth outfall for the city and Dowling said there likely will be eight or nine more, but it will take years to complete due to the cost. The other outfalls are at 45th Avenue South, 39th Avenue south, 21st Avenue South and Sixth Avenue South. Those four outfalls cost $15 million.
Myrtle Beach also has plans for more ocean outfalls, according to Kruea.
Funding the outfalls in both cities comes from a stormwater fee included in water and sewer bills.