Hilton Head Island's planned beach renourishment will begin in February and finish just in time to open the beaches for Memorial Day weekend and the busy summer tourist season, according to town engineers.
The $20.7 million project will place more than 2 million cubic yards of new sand on four segments of the island's iconic beaches to restore nearly a decade's worth of natural erosion.
It also will refill the additional 160,000 cubic yards of sand stripped off the beaches during this month's historic storms -- as much as they used to lose in an entire year, according to town engineers' analysis.
"What we're hoping to do is turn our visitors and tourists loose on a brand new beach in June 2016 and try to finish this thing out ... by the end of May," said Scott Liggett, town director of public projects and facilities.
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Town Council unanimously endorsed hiring Weeks Marine Inc. on Tuesday afternoon to complete the work.
The biggest segment of the project will be about 5.4 miles long, from the Marriott's Grand Ocean in South Forest Beach past Coligny to the northern edge of Palmetto Dunes, according to town plans.
Other sections include almost two miles along the heel at Port Royal Plantation, about 5,000 feet of South Beach in Sea Pines Resort and about 2,000 feet between Fish Haul and Mitchelville Beach parks.
The renourishment project has been in development for more than a year, and the town received four bids for the project at the end of last month, Liggett said.
Each of the bids was almost identical in cost -- only about $19,000 separated the best bids -- so the hiring ultimately came down to which company could complete the project more quickly, they said.
Weeks Marine is able to schedule a larger dredge and supporting equipment to complete the project in four months, while the next company would have taken twice as long using a smaller dredge, according to Liggett's analysis.
The town had hoped a contractor could start in early January, but Weeks has committed only to a February start date because its equipment is being used on other jobs, Liggett said. The dredge is currently working on a renourishment in South Padre Island, Texas, Weeks Marine announced last week.
The intended schedule for the dredging begins in February at the "toe" of the island on South Beach, according to the plans.
The dredge and crews will then work their way north along the Forest Beach and Palmetto Dunes segments of the project in March and April.
Then the "heel" of the island along Port Royal Plantation and the Fish Haul Creek area will finished in late April and May, avoiding any interference with the nesting months of the piping plover, Liggett said.
Now Liggett and town staff intend to meet -- or already have met -- with members of each of the community organizations along the affected portions of the beaches to communicate the specifics of the plans, which will still allow for certain beach access during the project.
"The biggest concern comes from my constituents in Palmetto Dunes," said Councilwoman Kim Likins, who represents many of the central island communities affected. "I think they appreciate and understand all the variables of the situation, and they're going to certainly support this."
The project is the first islandwide renourishment since 2006. It will be paid for using the town's beach preservation fee, a 2 percent tax established in 1993 that is collected on overnight lodging specifically for beach projects.