The Army Corps of Engineers recently finished up a $45 million beach renourishment project on Grand Strand beaches, but impacts from Hurricane Dorian may lead to more work.
Beach renourishment involves barges floating offshore to suck up sand from the ocean floor and pump it to the beach. From there, bulldozers push the sand around, raising the level of the beach to help protect beachfront properties from impacts from storms such as Dorian.
Wes Wilson, project manager for beach renourishment in the Grand Strand, said that based on what he’s hearing from local officials, their work did its job.
The $45 million project, completed in early June, added about 3 million cubic yards of sand — equivalent to 300,000 dump trucks — to Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Garden City Beach.
“If we didn’t renourish the beaches, I think (impacts from Dorian) would’ve been a lot worse,” Wilson said.
That project, which began in 2018 and was initially projected to cost $34 million, was interrupted by Hurricane Florence last September. Strong impacts from Florence and Hurricane Irma in 2017 meant that project was 100 percent federally funded through emergency rehabilitation funds.
Wilson said Army Corps engineers will assess about 26 miles of Grand Strand shoreline beginning Monday with plans to file a preliminary report by the end of next week. If further analysis is needed, a more in-depth report will be ordered, and that typically takes 45-60 days to complete, he said.
There’s a lengthy list of criteria a project must meet to receive federal funding, including most notably there must be a disaster declaration and the benefits must exceed the cost, according to Wilson.
“Basically, we can’t have a $20 million project where we only replace 5 percent of a beach,” he said.
Wilson noted that the benefit of protecting oceanfront properties in Myrtle Beach, with such a strong tourism-based economy, is easy to sell, compared to much smaller beaches.
Beach renourishment projects typically only occur every 7-10 years, but they’ve become regular occurrences on Grand Strand beaches in recent years due to high-impact storms.
In 2017, the Army Corps of Engineer completed a $21 million renourishment project that placed about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand on North Myrtle, Surfside and Garden City beaches in addition to a separate $6 million project placing 519,000 cubic yards of sand in Murrells Inlet. Part of the projects were also federally funded due to damages sustained from Hurricane Matthew.
WIlson, who’s worked in his role since Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, said the frequency of renourishment projects on the Grand Strand has been very unusual in recent years. He noted that, before these past few projects, the most recent renourishment was in 2007, and 1996 before that.
While the Grand Strand appeared Friday to have largely avoided significant property damages, there were visible signs of sand erosion along several parts of the beach.
North Myrtle Beach posted a photo on its Facebook page of an area near 8th Avenue North, where a storm drain had displaced a large swath of sand, creating a sort of circular crater.