Like sands through the hourglass, so are the beaches of Hilton Head Island.
Nearly a year after the town completed a $9.8 million project to renourish and protect a mile-long stretch of the island's heel near Port Royal Plantation, another beach renourishment is just around the corner.
A 1,500-foot-long swath of Port Royal Sound coastline needs 25,000 cubic yards of sand. The town also is starting to prepare for a larger islandwide renourishment project in 2014 or 2015.
The town has started designing the Port Royal project and will apply for permits from state and federal regulators within four weeks, according to Scott Liggett, town director of public projects. It has budgeted $160,000 for the design and permitting work.
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As much as $1 million would be needed to complete the project, Liggett estimates. If Town Council approves it during next month's budgeting, trucks could start dumping sand in October or March.
Unlike the project completed last spring, the renourishment is small enough to need only dump trucks to move the sand, not an offshore dredging pump.
A bank of sand is accumulating just offshore that could eventually sweep inshore and solve the erosion problem naturally, but waiting to see if that happens would be too risky, Liggett said.
If the erosion continues -- at a rate of about 30 feet per year, according to a 2010 survey -- it could damage oceanfront properties, he said, though no homes are in immediate danger.
The shoreline of the island's heel is particularly hard hit by erosion because of currents in the sound. The eroding pocket of sand that will be filled in has been tracked by the town since 2006 or 2007, Liggett said.
As part of the $9.8 million renourishment in 2012, which stretched for a mile between The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa and the Beach House in Port Royal Plantation, the town built a 700-foot-long wall of granite boulders to curb erosion. The $1.2 million groin traps sand that otherwise would be swept away, while still allowing some to move over the top of the groin so the down-drift portion of the beach also gets some sand. Liggett said the groin has not affected erosion in the area scheduled to be renourished.
REPLENISHING OTHER BEACHES
Another major beach renourishment project will be needed in 2014 or 2015, Liggett said. The town plans to spend $690,000 to begin surveying the floor of Calibogue Sound for sites where sand of comparable grain size and color could be pumped onto the beaches, he said.
"We're still in pretty good shape, but there are places where we have lost (sand) that we would like to revisit," Liggett said. He said the town plans for a major renourishment every seven to 10 years.
The last large-scale renourishment was in 2006. It spanned six miles, including parts of Forest Beach, Palmetto Dunes, South Beach and Fish Haul Creek, and cost about $17 million.
Hilton Head has spent about $40 million on beach renourishment since 1997, with less than 2 percent of that coming from the state, according to Liggett.
The projects are mostly funded with a 2-percent tax on overnight lodging, which the town began collecting in 1993.
Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.