Sea Island Co.’s plan for a 350-foot, T-head rock groin proposed for the island’s south end is alive and well, and a recently filed addendum to the plan adds beach renourishment for the entire island to the mix after storms caused erosion over the past two years.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah District issued a public notice Tuesday detailing changes to Sea Island Co.’s 2015 application for the construction of the new rock groin.
The addendum, filed March 6, makes a number of changes to the 2015 application.
Instead of taking sand from the north end of the island and moving it to the southern end to bolster the dunes and beach in a short stretch of beach, as was the case in the 2015 plan, sand would be dredged from a borrow site roughly four miles offshore and spread along much of the length of the island. The new plan also lays out guidelines for regular beach renourishment.
“In response to the damage caused by two 100-year storms that occurred during an 11-month period, Sea Island applied for permits with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore Sea Island beach. We propose to dredge approximately 1.3 million cubic yards of beach quality sand from an offshore borrow site to nourish the Sea Island beach from the existing northern groin down to the south groin,” Scott Steilen, CEO of the Sea Island Co., said in a statement.
The original plan called for the creation of 1,200-foot extension of the beach in front of the Reserve at Sea Island, a planned eight-house development on the southern end of Sea Island. The addendum expanded on that to include renourishment of the three miles of beach between the island’s two existing groins.
“This process will restore the protective dunes and dry sand at high tide for the entire three-mile stretch of beach. This project will be privately funded. The current application to (the Corps) amends a previous application that includes construction of a rock groin, natural dune, and nourishment to protect the upland south of the south groin. That project was approved by DNR,” Steilen said in the statement.
Beaches and dunes serve an important role in shoreline protection, Steilen said, which is to absorb and diffuse the force of waves hitting them. They did their jobs during hurricanes Matthew and Irma, he said, but it left them severely eroded.
In their eroded state, the beach and dunes will do little to protect Sea Island in case another storm hits, which is why the Sea Island Co. now wants to renourish the entire beach, Steilen said.
A dredge pump would be used to suck up around 1.3 million cubic yards of sand and deposit it along the three miles of beach between the old and new groins, Steilen said. It would then be arranged according to a design template by bulldozers “and other equipment.”
The application also called for renourishing the beach “up to once per year outside of turtle nesting season (May 1 to Oct. 31); at any time to correct unusual erosion rates or to correct damage caused by discrete events, upon notice to the (Army) Corps (of Engineers), Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division; and in the event of an approaching storm, to shape dunes to raise low lying areas for upland protection.”
A collection of environmental preservation groups, including local environmental advocacy group 100 Miles, appealed the DNR Shore Protection Committee’s approval of the original plan in 2016, but the approval was upheld by a Fulton County Superior Court judge.
While she hadn’t yet looked at the addendum to the application, Megan Desrosiers, executive director of the environmental nonprofit 100 Miles, said the original plan to move sand from elsewhere on the island was preferable to dredging from the ocean as a general rule.
“It’s always better if you take sand that’s on the beach and just move it instead of disturbing the ocean bottom,” Desrosiers said.
She added that Sea Island Co.’s efforts likely won’t bear out in the long run.
“There are just certain places on this coast where we know we cannot build. (The spit is) an extremely narrow piece of upland subject to extreme erosion. No matter how hard you try to build there, it will not be stable,” Desrosiers said. “(Hurricane) Irma eroded the spit to the point where those lots weren’t even marketable.”
The environmental groups claimed the rock groin would harm sea turtle and bird nesting habitats, as well as disrupt the coast’s natural sand-sharing system.
Lack of movement on the application since Hurricane Matthew caused the Corps to withdraw it on April 23, 2016, until the addendum was filed in on March 6.
Erosion caused by hurricanes Matthew and Irma caused Sea Island Co. to take action to shore up what was left of the dunes and beach and perform a beach evaluation.
Billy Birdwell, senior public affairs specialist with the Corps, said such a thing isn’t uncommon, as shoreline conditions can change quickly.
“That’s not an unusual event, that an application just stops. The applicants want us to stop working on it, or we tell them we need some more information and we put it in suspension, and it just stays there ... We consider it routine,” Birdwell said.
Steilen said in October that marketing for the Reserve was being put on hold while the damage inflicted by Irma was evaluated, but the groin project wasn’t being abandoned.
The public notice, along with instructions for submitting public comments on the application, can be found at www.sas.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices/.