Our island begins its beach renourishment program this month. It is one of several major capital projects that will be underway in 2016 aimed at helping to support both our island economy and quality of life—and it certainly is the most significant.
The $20.7 million project will place more than two million cubic yards of new sand on four sections of our 12 miles of Atlantic beachfront, and will restore about eight years of natural erosion since the last major nourishment program in 2007. Additionally, it will refill the more than 160,000 cubic yards of sand that was scraped away during last October’s storms, which, over just a few, days peeled off what is normally eroded in the course of a year.
This year’s work is slated to begin around President’s Day weekend along the toe of the island; and as Scott Liggett, our very capable town director of public projects and facilities, has told me, we are hoping to have a brand new beach available for our residents and visitors by June.
The South Beach shoreline in Sea Pines will be the starting point, and crews will continue toward the late spring and summer with the Forest Beach/Shipyard beachfront in March, the Palmetto Dunes beaches in April and early May and then finally the tip part of Port Royal’s beach in late May and early June. Unfortunately, the project’s start was slightly delayed because of weather setbacks on another job site in Texas, which detained the arrival of our contractor and his equipment.
This beach renourishment project is our first island-wide initiative in eight years and is paid for by our town’s beach preservation fee, a 2-percent tax established in 1993, which is collected on overnight visitor lodging.
When it comes to quality of life issues on Hilton Head Island, our beach preservation is near the top of the list. We have the blessed privilege to enjoy one of America’s very best beachfronts, and our town treats it accordingly.
Renourishment of our beaches is an environmentally sensitive opportunity that benefits both residents and visitors. A wider beach ensures a protected and sustained natural habitat for the endangered sea turtles and seabirds that make their homes or nests along our shore. A wider beach also provides extended storm protection for oceanfront homes, villas and hotel properties. What many of us our told when we move here: Hilton Head Island is the second largest barrier island on America’s East Coast.
But, what fewer of us know is that the island is also considered a “transgressive” relic coastal barrier that has migrated landward over the last several centuries. Thus, most beach erosion on Hilton Head Island is a naturally occurring phenomenon.
Unlike a majority of beach communities, Hilton Head Island has taken a proactive approach to manage beach erosion by independently funding an ongoing program of renourishment. In our case, I’ve learned that beach renourishment is necessary every seven to 10 years, depending on weather conditions and storms passing through the area. We completed earlier large scale nourishment projects in 1990, 1997 and 2007. In 2012, there was also a smaller project near the Westin Resort. Although certain inconveniences are unavoidable, I am assured that the project will be conducted as quickly and efficiently as possible. The town’s engineers have become well versed about how to facilitate matters during our previous projects.
In talking about our most important beachfront asset, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind all of you that the Obama Administration is expected to finalize by early spring a plan that could allow limited oil and gas development off the coasts of four Southeastern states including South Carolina.
Legislatures and governors of all four of these states have indicated significant support to drilling, but leaders of coastal cities and communities such as ours are expressing significant doubts about whether oil and gas can deliver the economic benefits that the industry’s supporters claim—certainly not enough to offset the potential negative impact of an environmental accident or the economic harm to tourism and real estate development that has benefitted these communities for the past 50 years.
If you have strong sentiment about this as I do, please contact our governor, our state legislators and our federal legislators in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Also pay keen attention to the positions that presidential candidates have on this matter.