Beaufort News

Hunting Island should soon have a ‘brand new’ beach as part of a long-awaited project

A long-awaited project to bolster Hunting Island State Park’s erosion-plagued beaches will begin as soon as turtle-nesting season ends.

Work to pump additional sand from offshore onto the beach should begin by Dec. 1 and take several months, park manager J.W. Weatherford said. About 2 miles of beach between the campground and South Beach will receive an additional 1.2 million cubic yards of sand as part of work permitted by state and federal regulators.

Permits also call for building another groin — a hard structure extending into the water to trap and build up sand — with an option to build a second.

To prepare for the project, Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort have worked this month to clear some of the fallen trees that serve as the backdrop for photos, and to remove obstacles for adventurous children. The “boneyard” of fallen trees on the south end of the island will remain undisturbed, Weatherford said.

“They’re still going to keep the essence of Hunting Island,” he said.

As soon as early November, park visitors could notice equipment being staged in the area. Sections of the beach and some parking will be closed while the work is underway.

But miles of beach will remain open for visitors, and parking should not be an issue during the off-season months, Weatherford said.

Work should last several months but will avoid turtle nesting season and the high-traffic times during warmer weather.

“That way, we’ll be ready to go with a brand new beach and sand dune by the time Easter and spring break come around,” Weatherford said.

The work is aimed at protecting the park’s historic lighthouse and restoring the beach for the approximately 1 million people who visit the park each year.

Erosion is a constant on Hunting Island and has been more damaging in recent years as a result of major storms and abnormally high tides.

Over the years, the state has invested millions in numerous renourishment projects. The most recent restoration came in 2006.

This is the most expensive effort yet, with an expected cost of at least $10 million. The amount of sand being spread is the most since 1.4 million cubic yards were added in 1980.

The scope of the project doubled after Hurricane Matthew decimated the island in October 2016.

Permits faced opposition from environmental groups who objected to the groins’ effect on nearby beaches, as well as from property owners on nearby Harbor Island who have said past Hunting Island projects have contributed to erosion on the private community’s beach.