A local environmental group is questioning the need to spend millions of taxpayer dollars for beach renourishment work along the Grand Strand, suggesting the projects could be harmful to the environment.
Nancy Cave, director of the Georgetown office of the Coastal Conservation League, says local officials should be encouraged to look for alternatives to the costly projects that move sand onshore from beneath the ocean offshore.
Citing a recent study of replenishment efforts along beaches in San Diego, Calif., that questioned whether resanding had depleted the food supply of some shorebirds, Cave said more attention should be paid to the potential harm created after tons of new sand land on Grand Strand beaches.
“We should educate people to realize there are impacts in regard to anything we do along the coastline,” Cave said. “Whether it’s renourishment or building seawalls, it will have an impact on the ocean, its currents, its environment and ecosystem.”
The Myrtle Beach Shore Protection project is administered by the Army Corps of Engineers, which has begun the permitting and design process for renourishment of the Garden City Beach area, while officials are still trying to secure federal funding for renourishment work in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
Renourishment began in 1998 to control erosion and provide some protection measures for dunes, and is on track to occur every decade with the next beach renourishment scheduled for 2018.
Damage done to area beaches last year after a tropical storm and historical amounts of rainfall washed away sand leaving little beach visible in some areas during high tide prompted local officials to ask that renourishment work begin as soon as possible and ahead of schedule.
So far, the Army Corps has only agreed to move forward with $16 million in renourishment work for Garden City Beach and a small portion of Georgetown County, where 1.7 million cubic yards of sand has been lost since the last renourishment project in 2008.
What frustrates me is we don’t talk about other alternatives that are more realistic alternatives.
Nancy Cave, Coastal Conservation League
“What frustrates me is we don’t talk about other alternatives that are more realistic alternatives,” said Cave, who said that building codes should require that new development be set back farther from the dune line.
“What are we going to do if we have a significant hurricane and (buildings) are destroyed, which could happen,” Cave said. “Do we rebuild in the same place and pour millions and millions into renourishment of the beaches in the hope that another hurricane won’t come, or that increasing sea levels won’t be as drastic?”
The S.C. Office of Coastal Resources Management requires that all new and substantially improved structures be at least 27.2 feet landward of the primary dune crest – a formula that is based on estimated erosion rates.
Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said the city calculates its setbacks on numbers stricter than what the state requires, at 34.2 feet landward. No new seawall construction is permitted, and the only construction allowed beyond the setback line are for decks, beach walkovers and sand fences.
Kruea says past renourishment efforts to shore up the beach have also included dune protection efforts, including planting more than a million sprigs of grass along the dunes and sand fencing to help accrete the sand.
$16 millionGarden City Beach area renourishment
“We’re aware that sand is a movable thing – Mother Nature brings sand onto the beach and takes sand away from the beach,” Kruea said. “Our erosion rate is fairly low here, but we need to add sand back.
“We’re very conscience of that fact that it is part of the natural environment, that Mother Nature is a key player here, but periodic renourishment reinforces Mother Nature and is not a detractor.”
Renourishment is needed to protect the environment, the tourism-based economy that depends on the beach, and the flood control it provides for $4 billion in property that lines the Grand Strand shores, said Justin Powell, Horry County assistant administrator.
“We view this fundamentally as a flood prevention project and a way to reduce losses, so from that perspective, it is a life and safety thing for the Army Corps, and a major economic driver for us,” Powell said.
The University of California, San Diego study referenced by Cave that was published last month in the Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science Journal, found that some species of intertidal invertebrates appeared to increase after beach renourishment, while others decreased.
Researchers told Phys.org that it is critical to continue studies on the ecological impact of beach renourishment because there are significant gaps in their knowledge as to how long the effects of beach renourishment could last, and how frequently the Army Corps should replenish beaches.
Cave said her group did not plan to challenge the permits being pursued by the Army Corps of Engineers to begin work at Garden City Beach, but said they do want to educate the public on what problems could occur in the future if policies are not changed, including setbacks for development.
Fast forward to reality, obviously we have billions of dollars worth of income-producing buildings along the beach, not just accommodations, but other businesses.
Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach spokesman
Pat Dowling, spokesman for North Myrtle Beach, acknowledges that if the Grand Strand was still in its infancy of population and no development existed along the beach, setbacks would be even farther from the ocean.
“Development would have taken a different course,” Dowling said. “Fast forward to reality, obviously we have billions of dollars worth of income-producing buildings along the beach, not just accommodations, but other businesses.
“We also have many private homes that are insured and it really is unrealistic to think there is anyway to set those back from the beach or demolish what their lives depend on for income from that, and that’s how we live in contemporary society.”