FOLLY BEACH — Millions of dollars more are on the line to renourish this city’s beaches, and the city might have to pay for the most severely eroded stretches.
The lowest bid of the once-$20 million project came in at $30 million plus, said Lisa Metheney, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assistant chief for project management for the Charleston district. That has meant Folly Beach already has had to produce $1.37 million more for its share, and the Army Corps is asking for more funds, Metheney said.
But the bigger issue involves at least 35 spots and at least eight owners where the beach has eroded back onto their private property. The Army Corps has told the city it must acquire easements in order for those properties to be renourished in the project; the easements would turn what was private property into public beach.
If the city doesn’t get an easement for any of the lots, it would be on the hook to pay entirely to renourish those spots. Paying for all of them identified so far could cost city taxpayers more than $2.5 million more.
That shocked officials and residents who had thought the project was a done deal, and now they face decisions that could derail at least part of the renourishment.
“We’ve already spent $5 million,” said Mayor Tim Goodwin. Now he’s faced with the prospect of paying for easements or legal costs for a lawsuit if the city tries to declare eminent domain. “We really don’t have any money to spend for that right now.”
Beachfront owners already have been battling state regulators to protect their properties. Stacey Weiss, who threatened legal action to build a sea wall virtually under her home to stop it from eroding, was surprised to hear of more problems. She would have to learn about what was involved before commenting, she said.
Adding to the shock, the Army Corps also told the city it would be responsible one way or the other to provide beach accesses, dune vegetation or other improvements across those spots as needed.
The erosion is the city’s problem because it occurred over an eight-year span agreed on between renourishments, Metheney said.
That might not cut it, Goodwin said. The Army Corps’ own report said the city had maintained the stretches as well as it could.
The federal government is required to renourish the beach as needed, or about every eight years, as a settlement to a 1987 lawsuit by Folly property owners who charged that the erosion was exacerbated by the Charleston jetties disrupting the flow of sand along the shore.
The city has sought the work for more than a year because of the accelerated erosion. Funding was delayed by political budget posturing; the Army Corps moved already-budgeted money to do the work after Republican S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn became involved.
“They should have been pumping sand a year ago,” Goodwin said. “We’ll go to our congressmen and senators to see what we can do. This is going to be a political fray or legal battle, I’m sure.”
Metheney said she didn’t expect the issues to delay the project start. The contract is expected to be awarded in November.
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