Crews began laying and submerging pipe and prepping machinery Friday for a $9.8 million project to rebuild and protect Hilton Head Island's heel.
This week, workers will begin pumping about 1 million cubic yards of sand from offshore onto a one-mile stretch between the Westin Resort and the Beach House in Port Royal Plantation, town public projects and facilities director Scott Liggett said.
The work aims to combat a decade of erosion that has claimed about 80 to 100 feet of beachfront a year. Left unchecked, the erosion could threaten oceanfront property, town officials said.
But keeping the shoreline in good shape isn't easy.
The town also will build a 700-foot-long wall made of granite boulders to stabilize the eroding beachfront. After bulldozers finish pushing sand into the right spots for the first 1,000-foot section of beach, crews will start hauling 12,000 tons of boulders for the groin. The $1.2 million structure will trap sand that normally would be lost to coastal drift, but it will also allow some sand to move over its top so as not to starve other areas of the beach, Liggett said.
"It doesn't mean the sand we place won't move -- it certainly will -- but we hope the groin will provide us a degree of stability and lower the loss rate we would otherwise see," he said.
The groin will be buried, so people won't have difficulty walking or biking along the beach, but areas jutting into the water will be exposed, Liggett said. Boaters and swimmers will need to beware. The town is discussing potential markings and lighting to alert people.
It will be the third groin the town has built but the first for the island's oceanfront.
The town built a groin in spring 2009 at the south end that worked faster than predicted and prevented more sand from being washed away. Liggett hopes that could bode well for the island's heel.
At the toe, the mound of granite boulders at the inlet to Braddock Cove near South Beach has moved the high-water line seaward almost 80 feet and stacked sand nearly four-feet high, he said. The sand would have otherwise built up at the entrance to the inlet, Liggett said.
Work at the heel was to begin in January 2010, but problems with permitting, moving equipment and weather delayed the project.
The postponement, though, might have been for the best.
"The beach will be less crowded now that it's winter," said Dan Davis, general manager of the Port Royal land owners association.
"We are looking forward to the project. It's a busy stretch of beach used by both our residents and visitors," Davis said. "There's about 100 to 150 feet of solid beach left. (Erosion) is not imminently threatening, but we wouldn't want to wait any longer. ... The sound of the bulldozers beeping in the night will be a welcome sound. It's music to our ears."
The beach fill is a 24-hour-a-day, two-month process. Construction of the groin is expected to be completed by May 1.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.