Homes in the South Beach section of Sea Pines remain at high risk for future storm damage after Hurricane Matthew plowed through dunes and washed away sand, a Hilton Head Island town official said Tuesday.
And no one knows when the houses — estimated to be dozens — will be safe again.
The homes will remain at risk for damage from any strong storm until a beach renourishment project can be completed on the 8,000-foot stretch of coast, said Scott Liggett, the town’s director of public projects and facilities and chief engineer.
Storm surges from the Oct. 8 hurricane cut away sand, soil and vegetation about 75 to 100 feet deep along the South Beach section.
For Bret Ellis, it left his pool foundation exposed for more than a month after the storm. The foundation has since been covered by sand from an emergency “scraping” project conducted by the town. That process pushes sand already on the beach up to the homes to provide a buffer.
Ellis said the uncertainty of when his property will be properly protected is concerning.
“The good news is that our damage is not as bad as it could be,” he said. “The bad news is we have to fix the damage.”
The scraping project currently underway is a temporary fix, Liggett said, noting that even a routine winter nor’easter could break through the sand barrier.
“The protection is very modest, which is why we need to follow up,” he said.
A renourishment project on the portion of South Beach is needed to replace an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of sand lost from the storm, Liggett said. He said the replenishment of sand will further protect homes.
Yet, the town is waiting on word about whether a contractor completing an island-wide beach renourishment project will stay to fix storm damage on South Beach, or move on to its next project.
New Jersey-based Weeks Marine Inc., is working on the $20.7 million island-wide renourishment project, which started before Hurricane Matthew. The project was set to be completed in October but has been delayed because of the hurricane and Tropical Storm Hermine, officials previously said.
Liggett said he has no estimate on when renourishment could be completed on South Beach if Weeks Marine doesn’t stay for that project. Mayor David Bennett previously said it could take six to nine months to secure a new contractor.
Multiple other questions also remain for property owners along South Beach.
Ellis said he is uncertain of what he can do to protect his own property. Federal and state lines could have shifted with the disappearing sand and vegetation.
“I don’t know if I can plant hedges or put a deck up,” Ellis said. “Someone has to plant something on the sand to keep it from getting washed away ... and I don’t know who or when someone is going to do that.”
Liggett said an engineering study on hurricane damage to island beaches is expected to be done by the end of December. Town Council will then have to decide how it wants to address damage covered in the report, he said.