Hilton Head beaches were damaged by Matthew and Irma. Will Florence do even more?

Here’s a glimpse of Irma’s damage on Hilton Head’s South Beach.
Here’s a glimpse of Irma’s damage on Hilton Head’s South Beach.

Hilton Head Island saw significant damage to its beaches from Hurricane Matthew and Irma, but town officials say they are ready for Hurricane Florence.

After two consecutive years of storms that brought damage to the beaches, Scott Liggett, director of public projects for the town of Hilton Head, said he’s “optimistic” about the newly renourished dune systems and vegetation that act as “shock absorbers” for hurricane tides.

“We are starting from a healthy beach standpoint,” Liggett said of his confidence in the island’s beaches.

The town undertook two beach renourishment projects — one that aimed to fix damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and one new project that Tropical Storm Irma interrupted in 2017 — that have now been completed. At this point, Liggett said the beaches are in “really great shape” to weather a storm that was decreasing in strength as of Thursday evening.

The South Island Emergency Beach Fill project began last week on Hilton Head and continued on Tuesday. The $3.8 million project is placing 300,000 cubic yards of sand along about two miles of beach in Sea Pines that were heavily eroded by Hurrican

Liggett said that although the rain and tides may move some sand around, he believes the “natural recovery” of the dunes will be enough to maintain the safety of the beaches.

When sand is displaced in a storm, it can either be pushed back to its dune by standard winds or be washed out entirely. Liggett said he expects the former in Hurricane Florence.

Once the storm leaves the area, Liggett said he’s “not expecting a problem” with beach safety, meaning that beachgoers should be able to return to healthy beaches next week if current estimates stand.

About 650,000 cubic yards of sand was lost across Hilton Hilton beaches during Hurricane Matthew. This included about a 2-mile stretch on South Beach — which runs along Sea Pines.

Dozens of Sea Pines homes remained exposed to high tides and storm surges for more than a year following Matthew. Irma only increased the threat by washing away 20 to 30 feet of beach in the area.

A delay in fixing the damage came as town officials worked to gain permits and funding to renourish the areas damaged.