Beaufort News

Harbor, Hunting islands still struggling to find solid ground after storm erosion

Hunting Island suffered damage from unusually high tides related to storm activity on Oct. 5, 2015.
Hunting Island suffered damage from unusually high tides related to storm activity on Oct. 5, 2015. sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com

Parts of Harbor and Hunting islands are still struggling to find solid ground after severe erosion from this month's historic storms damaged their beaches and threatened homes.

Two weeks since the storms, Harbor Island owners continue to make emergency repairs and have only just begun the push to be declared a disaster area eligible for federal aid, said Don Woelke, general manager for the gated community between St. Helena and Hunting islands.

On Hunting Island, volunteers are still awaiting orders for cleanup efforts, said Denise Parsick, president of the Friends of Hunting Island group.

Other parts of the county have emerged from the storm relatively unscathed. Only the retaining wall on a small bridge was damaged during the extensive flooding on Fripp Island, and renourishment projects on Hilton Head's beaches had already been funded and planned before the storm.

Despite the lingering damage on Harbor and Hunting islands, though, leaders are optimistic that help is on the way.

"We're doing everything we possibly can, and we've got our fingers crossed we can get some real aid here soon," Woelke said.

HARBOR ISLAND

The 10 or so upscale homes on Harbor Island threatened when the storm washed away about 15 feet of beach have not yet sustained any major damage.

Some of those owners are now scrambling to get new sand in place under emergency orders issued last week by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's Ocean and Coastal Resource Management division.

Last week, Tricia Gardner had 15 truckloads of sand and hundreds of sandbags placed around her waterfront home. The work already has cost more than $5,000, and it's "really only a Band-Aid," she said.

"It's really demoralizing," she said. "I just feel like we can't protect our property. We're in bad shape here in Harbor Island."

A group of community homeowners is petitioning for Beaufort County to be added to the list of federal disaster relief areas to try to secure emergency aid for a beach renourishment project, Woelke said. The group also has submitted an application to the state for a five-year renourishment, he added.

"We have homeowners contacting their representatives at the state and federal levels, phone call after phone call going into FEMA," Woelke said. "We're doing everything we possibly can to expedite the decision-making process, and hopefully, we'll be successful."

HUNTING ISLAND

Volunteers are waiting for a plan from Hunting Island State Park manager Daniel Gambrell before starting cleanup, Parsick said last week.

"Staff has really done a monumental job of preliminary stuff, and (Gambrell) was called away to serve away on the state management committee," she said. "There's debris on the trails from the heavy rains, branches and limbs, even trees down. There are palm fronds everywhere, I mean everywhere, and sand in places it used to not be."

State parks officials have said Hunting Island was the hardest-hit park statewide, despite avoiding a direct strike by the worst of the storms, Parsick said.

Parsick estimates that about 20 feet of beach was lost during the storm -- more than it typically sheds in an entire year.

Rising waters came up to the fence at the gift shop at the north end of the park, and dozens of campsites there are still too waterlogged to rent, she said.

"The park is doing what they can to keep the roads open, and we're waiting for (Gambrell) to set up a plan next week before we call on volunteers," she said. "Then we'll set up a date for another beach cleanup and go from there."

Park advocates are still pushing for a possible $8 million beach renourishment there to tag along with a planned project to bolster Edisto Beach, she said. That plan is still in the works and could still be another two years away, she added.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach and on Facebook at facebook.com/IPBGZach.

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