Bulldozers on Edisto beach move and shape sand that is being pumped onto beach. The dark watery mixture is spewing out of a series of connected metal pipes that go more than a mile out in the Atlantic Ocean. Those pipes lead to a dredge – the large machine stirring up the sand on the bottom of the ocean Thomas Payne, with Marinex Construction explains.
Payne is managing part of the beach renourishment project. He says the man operating the dredge will start by pumping water through the pipes.
“Once he gets good flow he’ll drop cutter head, ladder cutter mechanism travels on bottom of the floor stir up the sand slurry it and pump it,” he said.
In the ten years since the last beach re-nourishment project the high tide line has moved closer to first row of elevated beachfront homes.
“The beach erosion had gotten very bad,” said resident Judy Williams.
Williams and her husband have a home on the island a few blocks inland. They’ve lived here for 18 years. She says the construction on the beach is much needed.
“A lot of times it would just cut away,” she said. “You would have a three or four foot drop off.”
Over the past few years tropical storms and hurricanes have damaged to the coastline on Edisto Beach. Mayor Jane Darby says the sand replacement project is starting almost a year earlier than originally planned.
“Each of these events increased the scope and the urgency of the nourishment project,” she said.
Not to mention driven up the cost. Darby says the town’s is covering a third of the nearly $18 million dollar project. A combination of county, state and federal funds will make up the rest.
“It is very expensive. But if you consider the beach is our industrial park and that only with a beach do you get your tourism industry which also plays into all the funding for the town,” Darby said. “It is vital for us…the whole town is dependent on that beach.”
Edisto has been doing these renourishment projects for years just like many other coastal communities up and down the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. Many of these communities get assistance because the projects can be so expensive. Rob Young leads the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University. He doesn’t think it’s sustainable for these communities to rely on federal aid for the beach renourishment projects.
“We probably shouldn’t be doing it absolutely everywhere and I’m suggesting we won’t be able to do it everywhere forever,” Young said. “We will run out of money. We are also going to run out of sand. It is not an infinite resource.”
Data collected by the Developed Shorelines Program shows the 78 projects on beaches in South Carolina since the 1950’s have cost hundreds of millions dollars. Young believes communities who want to re-nourish should bear the full cost.
“I think it is incumbent on coastal communities to find a way to cover their own risk of developing investing and building in these wonderful coastal areas,” he said.
Young points to Hilton Head Island as an example. The vacation destination funds its projects with local fees.
Back on Edisto Beach, crews will be working around the clock to have the project done by May – the start of tourist season.