Every hour, a fresh load of 2,200 cubic yards of sand and water is hauled back to Surfside Beach and spit onto the shore in what one Army Corps of Engineers employee describes as a “chocolate milkshake.”
The mixture is easier to transport than sand alone—and lighter for a dredge boat to carry from a “borrow site” at a sandbar a few miles offshore. The boat deposits its loads, scraped from the ocean floor, at a pump site connected to the sand by a large, rusty, snaking pipe system. Bulldozers stand at the ready to push the sand into mounds before the waves can wash it back into the sea.
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A few hundred feet away from where the slurry is pumped, a roughly 30-foot-tall tripod called a crab moves across the sand and into the water, surveying how flat the ocean floor is. On the other side of the orange plastic netting that blocks this section of the beach, tourists watch from beach chairs or sneak a peek at the work from jetskis in the water.
This $16-million beach renourishment project is putting about 800,000 cubic yards of sand—about eight times as much as could fill the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool—back onto land in Surfside Beach and Garden City. Both areas saw significant erosion from Hurricane Matthew last October.
The work blocks 1,000-foot stretches of the beach for a day or two at a time, an inconvenience for tourists, but an important process, the Corps said, to protect the beachfront left vulnerable by the storm.
“It’s an infrastructure protection project for the people and the properties...something the corps does often and does well,” Lt. Col. Jeff Palazzini, of the Army Corps’ Charleston office, said.
There’s always the threat that another storm could come and disrupt work. The dredge boat and pumps can’t be operated when water is too choppy, like earlier this week, when a tropical depression moved past the coast.
And as Harvey continues to cause historic flooding near Houston, Tropical Storm Irma is churning across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s final trajectory is still unclear.
If a serious storm hit during renourishment, Project Manager Wes Wilson said, “Essentially the contractor would shut down work.”
“If we knew there was a hurricane coming, we would run the beach with ... survey equipment, and then do a post-storm survey and figure out what material was lost in the storm event,” Wilson said.
Replacing any sand lost in a serious storm would depend on funding left in the project’s coffers and whether the contractor was still available.
Whether equipment would stay on the beach “depends on the magnitude of the storm,” Wilson added.
Myrtle Beach last in line
Renourishment along the south end of Horry County is scheduled to finish in September, and the dredge and pumping stations will move up to North Myrtle Beach immediately after to do the same work there.
Funding for renourishment in the two opposite ends of the county were approved at the same time, as the north and south sections were the hardest hit last year. Doing the work in the same timeframe saves money, County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said, because it can cause up to $6 million just to set up a renourishment project.
“It was give and take, quite honestly, for a long time, getting those federal dollars,” Lazarus said.
Lazarus said he expected that work would continue straight into Myrtle Beach after North Myrtle Beach, and that work on Horry County’s beaches would be done before Memorial Day 2018.
No official date has been set for work to begin in Myrtle Beach, which secured funding after other areas in the county. Lisa Metheny, of the Army Corps, said that the work for Myrtle Beach will have to be bid out separately.
If the same contractor is selected, it may happen almost immediately, but there’s no guarantee which company will be picked.