On Hilton Head's heel, sand continues to be lost to nature, permit delays

Sand continues to wear away from Hilton Head Island's heel as work to rebuild the beach there has again been pushed back, now by about five months, because of permitting delays.

Another 50 to 60 feet of sand may be lost by the time work begins, based on the most recent shoreline survey and historical trends.

And sand lost in the meantime probably won't be replaced because of budget constraints, said Scott Liggett, the town's director of public projects and facilities.

"What we are trying to achieve is a project where we can place as much volume of material higher on the beach as we can," Liggett said, adding the town may not be able to extend the beach as far seaward as hoped, but should still help ease the erosion.

In January, workers were to begin pumping about 1 million cubic yards of sand onto a mile-long stretch of beach at Port Royal Plantation. A groin also will be built to prevent sand from washing away and allow it to accrue along the shore.

But delays in obtaining a state permit for the project postponed construction until spring, town officials said. That date was delayed even more as the town awaited approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which gave its go-ahead March 10.

That put the town in a bind. The permits required the work to be completed by May 31 -- not enough time to solicit and review bids or for the contractor to line up equipment. Construction would have taken take 60 to 70 days, Liggett said.

Town officials say they'll begin renourishment Oct. 1 under a new deadline approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that requires completion before May 1, 2012. Liggett said the town is waiting until fall to avoid sea-turtle nesting season.

The town will pay for the estimated $12.5 million project by borrowing against expected tax revenue on overnight lodging and by using a $1 million state grant.

The work is needed to combat a decade of erosion that has claimed about 100 feet of beachfront a year. Left unchecked, oceanfront property could be threatened, town officials say.

But the rescheduled project should not cause problems for property owners, the town says.

"There is still a significant buffer between private properties and the current high-water line," Liggett said. "I do not expect the erosion to become a material threat to private property."

Port Royal Plantation land owners were disappointed about the delay, but the new schedule may be better because it will avoid the busy tourist season, said the gated community's general manager, Dan Davis.

"We are glad to see that the project will move forward, and it's not unusual to have these permitting delays when you're working with multiple government agencies," Davis said. "The owners support the town and the progress they're making."