Time draws near to bulk up Hilton Head beaches

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 3, 2013 

Now that they have rebuilt and protected Hilton Head Island's heel, town officials say it's time to focus on arch support.

The town's Public Facilities Committee recommended Tuesday that the next renourishment project in 2015 focus on mid-island sections where the beach is eroding fastest -- shedding more than five feet of sand a year.

The three-member committee voted unanimously to replenish sand just north of South Beach, between Alder Lane and the Folly, and between the Port Royal Beach House and Tattnall Place along Port Royal Sound.

"The central part of the island and at the ends is where we see the most change, due to the shape of the island, wave patterns and offshore shoals," Chris Creed, a senior coastal engineer with Olsen Associates, told the committee. "The center is shedding sand to the ends of the island, but the sand that's moved there can't compensate for the big changes on the ends."

For example, in two years, North Forest Beach would narrow to 100 feet from about 150 feet if no action is taken, Creed said.

However, beach erosion on Hilton Head has slowed, and the renourishment projects planned for 2015 and beyond probably will be smaller and cost less than in the past, said Scott Liggett, town director of public projects.

"We likely will end up placing fewer cubic yards of sand compared to previous years, and the projects proposed (for 2015) span about five miles of shoreline," less than prior years, he said.

The island's beaches are losing 80,000 to 90,000 cubic yards of sand per year -- about half the rate of the 1980s and '90s, Liggett said.

The island is about 200 feet wider than when the renourishment program started, he added.

The town plans for a major renourishment every seven to 10 years. The last large-scale renourishment was in 2006 and covered eight miles, including parts of Forest Beach, Palmetto Dunes, South Beach, Fish Haul Creek and Port Royal Plantation. It cost about $17 million.

A formal estimate for the project has yet to be determined; however, a 2010 analysis by the town's finance department concluded it could support a project of up to $17 million.

Town staff is also securing state and federal permits for a project of about $1 million to replenish a 1,500-foot-long swath of Port Royal Sound coastline that needs 25,000 cubic yards of sand.

The project, expected to begin early next year, comes nearly two years after a $12 million project to renourish and protect a mile-long stretch of the island's heel near Port Royal Plantation. The heel has been hit particularly hard by erosion because of the currents in the sound, Creed said.

However, unlike the project completed last spring, the next heel renourishment is small enough to require only dump trucks to move sand, not an offshore dredging pump, Liggett said.

Hilton Head has spent about $46 million on beach renourishment since 1990, mostly funded with a 2 percent tax on overnight lodging, which the town began collecting in 1993.

In other action

The council approved the following Tuesday:

  • Final reading of an ordinance allowing entertainment and food, beverages and merchandise near Coligny Beach for the celebration of the anniversary of the town's incorporation and sighting of the island by Capt. William Hilton.
  • First reading of an ordinance amending the town's texting ban to allow use of mobile electronics by on-duty emergency responders, such as deputies and EMS workers, as part of their official duties.
  • First reading of an ordinance increasing the town's tax rate by 1.5 mills to compensate for an 8 percent drop in property values from a countywide reassessment. The process is known as "roll forward" because tax rates are set to rise just enough to bring in the same amount of money as the previous year. Residents whose assessed values decrease by more than 8 percent would pay less in taxes. But if a property's value rises or does not change, the owner would pay more in taxes.

Document: Renourishment proposal map

Document: Sept. 3, 2013, Town Council meeting agenda

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Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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