‘The coast moves, that’s just a fact of life’: Experts say the millions spent on beach renourishment is ‘doing its job’

Grand Strand

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – Multi-million dollar beach renourishment projects are a mainstay on the Grand Strand coastline to prevent inevitable erosion.

“It’s a pretty constant issue living on the coastline,” United States Seventh district congressman Tom Rice said. “The coast moves, that’s just a fact of life.”

The Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District heads up the renourishment projects in the News13 area.

“Essentially using a dredge offshore of Myrtle Beach and pumping that sand onto the beach and utilizing bulldozers to spread it over the project,” Wes Wilson, the project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers said. “We do the beach renourishments to protect the infrastructure behind the dunes.”

The Myrtle Beach Shore Protection Program is a 50-year-plan that began in 1998. It splits the 26 miles of Grand Strand coastline into three phases: North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach and the Surfside/Garden City area. Since it began, the entire coastline has been fully renourished twice with other smaller-scale projects in the last five years.

Wilson says the beaches typically need to be renourished about every ten years unless a storm forces a project ahead early. 

Under the Myrtle Beach Shore Protection Program, the federal government pays for 65% of the project, with the municipality picking up the remaining 35%; unless a natural disaster causes significant damage, in which case the federal government pays for the entire renourishment.

“In 2018 and 2019, due to Hurricane Irma we had significant erosion,” Wilson said. “This project was a $45 million dollar project that was 100% funded by the federal government.”

During that renourishment, enough sand to fill 300,000 dump trucks was dispersed across the Grand Strand.

“South Carolina has been through a few storm events since 2016; Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Irma [and] through each of these storms the renourishment have done their jobs,” Wilson said.

While hurricanes are a common cause of beach erosion, King Tides pose a big problem for the dunes.

“Our normal high tide is about 5 and half feet, but some of these king tides will get to 7.5, almost 8 feet higher than normal,” beach coordinator for the City of Myrtle Beach, Tod O’Briant said. “When that high tide comes up and comes into our dunes, it slowly pulls that sand back out; especially on the south end, that’s our most narrow part of the beach.”

O’Briant says the dunes are the beach’s first line of defense in a storm.

“Sand fencing and beach grass do the same thing,” O’Briant said. “They catch the particles of sand that blow in the wind; they catch it and trap it and that naturally builds the dune. That’s why it’s so important that people don’t pull up our sea oats and beach grass and don’t walk through the accesses where they are not supposed to.”

Right now, Wes Wilson says the areas that require the most attention are North Myrtle Beach and Garden City, though he says that wasn’t always the case.

“Erosion changes throughout time,” Wilson said. “You won’t see the same erosion rates over ten years.”

This was Wilson’s response when News13 asked him if there was a more sustainable solution to beach renourishment than repeat renourishment projects that cost the federal government millions of dollars:

“What we try to accomplish is, where can we get the most beneficial use of material,” he said. “So that is taking materials from a federal navigation project, such as Murrells Inlet and then pumping it onto the beach. Essentially you’re  going to kill two birds with one stone. You’re clearing the navigation channel and you’re protecting the structures behind the beach.”

Right now, the Grand Strand is between renourishment projects and each year until it’s needed, municipalities submit a beach assessment to the Army Corps of Engineers.

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