Hilton Head Island will move forward with a revised schedule for rebuilding its beaches during the peak of tourism season, even though several members of the town’s tourism industry asked that the project be delayed.
Town Council voted 6-1 Tuesday, with Mayor David Bennett opposing, that the $20.7 million beach renourishment project — originally scheduled to begin in February — will now begin no earlier than June 1, and will last through mid-October. Bennett said he supports the renourishment, but would have liked to push it back an additional 30 to 45 days, farther out of the summer.
He and council members expressed frustration Tuesday with the town’s contractor, Weeks Marine, whose significant weather and scheduling delays have forced the town to decide between beginning work in June or scrapping the project for at least another year.
Members ultimately said it was better to move forward than roll the dice that beaches would not erode beyond repair this summer and fall and that contractors would not experience similar setbacks next spring.
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“I think it’s critical we go forward; I really do,” town councilman John McCann said. “Our beaches are our most precious assets and to let it drift away ... it’s a mistake.”
Under the revised schedule, which town staff released Monday, contractors will begin work along the Port Royal Sound, then move to Sea Pines Resort and end with the central oceanfront beach heading into the end of summer and early fall.
The renourishment will place more than 2 million cubic yards of new sand on four segments of the island’s beaches to restore nearly a decade’s worth of natural erosion. Some stretches of beach were crippled from storms last October, losing 30 to 50 feet of sand.
Representatives of the Hilton Head hospitality and tourism industries said they understood the town’s situation, but even so, asked members to consider pushing the renourishment to another year.
Sonesta Resort Hilton Head reported that it has 14 weddings booked during its portion of the renourishment, seven of them on the beach.
Sea Pines Resort reported it has been warning and preparing customers for months that there would be work in the spring, and now may face a slew of July cancellations.
And for those that keep their reservations, staying in a beachfront property where work is taking place may leave a permanently bad taste in tourists’ mouths, said Ariana Pernice, vice president of the visitor and convention bureau of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
“I think it’s probably a pretty substantial hit,” Pernice said, adding that for every dollar spent to attract new visitors, the chamber would likely need $5 to $10 to change someone’s mind about a negative experience.
Mayor David Bennett and several council members said they were in favor of further delaying the renourishment to avoid crippling the hospitality industry on the south end, perhaps by as little as an extra month.
“If this causes the island to have a black eye, that could last for a long time,” council member Tom Lennox.
They ultimately asked chief town engineer Scott Liggett to look into delaying work further, but authorized the town to start work on June 1.
The decision erred on the side of caution, as Liggett had recommended, and means beaches will still see a much-needed improvement this year.
“I’m not sure all portions of our beach can afford to what amounts to another summer and winter season until such time as we execute this process,” Liggett said. “But there will never be a good time to do this.”
Revised beach restoration timeline
- June 1 — Work would begin on about 1.5 miles of shoreline between the island’s heel and the Barker Field area along Port Royal Sound.
- Mid-July to early August — The dredge would be repositioned to the south and work along about 1 mile of shoreline at Sea Pines Resort near South Beach.
- Mid-August to mid-October — About 5.5 miles of central oceanfront beach would be built between South Forest Beach and The Folly at Singleton Beach. Work would move south to north in Forest Beach then shift to The Folly and head south by Palmetto Dunes.
- Hilton Head beach project likely delayed until June, March 14, 2016
- Hilton Head beach restoration delayed, February 29, 2016
- Hilton Head beach renourishment project to begin February, end before summer season, October 20, 2016