A view from the CRAB shows work progressing along the beach as dredged material flows from the pipeline. (Sara Corbett, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

Crews Restore South Carolina Beaches After Storms

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, a mix of tools and machinery is hard at work in a part of South Carolina known as a place for fun and relaxation: the coastline in and around Myrtle Beach.

The area beaches are part of South Carolina's 60-mi.-long Grand Strand, a series of seaside communities stretching from the North Carolina border to Georgetown.

Known worldwide for its gentle ocean breezes and top-tier golf resorts, the northern section of the Grand Strand includes Myrtle and North Myrtle beaches, as well as Garden City and Surfside Beach.

Sometimes, though, those breezes are anything but gentle.

In recent years, Hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Florence have all menaced the Myrtle Beach area — in the process vividly reinforcing the need for periodic (and expensive) renovation of the beaches between their seaside homes and the Atlantic Ocean.

In a project that began last summer and is currently on hold for the winter, the beaches in the northern Grand Strand, Horry County, are undergoing a major 26.2-mi. rehabilitation involving a sand and berm upgrade. The multimillion-dollar job is designed to protect the beaches, as well as the valuable beachfront homes, from problems that range from the rather mild effects of high spring tides to the ravages of hurricanes and nor'easters that stalk the Southeast coast almost annually.

The rehabilitation process is repeated about every seven to 10 years, depending on when and if Mother Nature decides to go on a stormy rampage. Myrtle Beach and its sister beaches last underwent facelifts in 2008.

"Hurricanes and heavy storms do shorten our timetable because they eat away at that protective storm berm," explained Wes Wilson, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District. "We had a good run of luck at Myrtle Beach when it came to big storms when you factor in that we did the initial construction in 1996 and our first rehab in 2008. After that, the next scheduled rehab was last summer, so the area has been averaging one rehab about every 10 years."

The USACE awarded a contract worth more than $34 million for the Myrtle Beach Storm Damage Reduction Project to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company LLC, which was tasked with placing approximately 1.4 million cu. yds. of material on Myrtle, North Myrtle, Garden City and Surfside beaches.

A coastal research amphibious buggy, or CRAB, is used to survey the surf zone during the beach rehabilitation of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Behind the CRAB are two dredging platforms stationed over the sandbar. The next three vessels are small work boats used to assist in dredging projects. At far right is one of the hopper dredge ships. (Sara Corbett, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

The work followed a 2017 sand renourishment emergency project in the same communities, in which 1.3 million cu. yds. of dredged sand was placed in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Not long after the latest project began late last summer, Great Lakes' crews at the Grand Strand were stopped in their tracks by the threat of a monster storm heading toward the Southeast coast in September.

All their equipment, including offshore hopper dredges to pull tons of sand off the shallow ocean floor, as well as submerged pipes, shore pipes and bulldozers to shape the sand blown onto the beach, had to be brought in and secured tightly.

The contractor, city officials, residents and tourists all feared the worst when mighty Hurricane Florence took aim straight at the Grand Strand beaches packing Category 4 winds. Just as it was about to hit the area, though, it weakened and veered slightly to the north, finally making landfall at Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

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