Town's beach renourishment plan is golden

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All too early one morning last week, your island was represented on national television. Yes, there is a show that airs even before "Morning Joe," and they wanted to know the condition of Hilton Head Island in the aftermath of Irma's surge. In news, the greater the tragedy, the longer the air time, so our time in the spotlight was brief. But, I gratefully accepted their invitation and communicated to everyone listening that Hilton Head Island was spared the devastation of other areas and would likely be open for business before lunch.

Islanders know that the intensity and position of each storm that forms is not in our control. However, we also know that we do have command of long- and short-term plans to direct and sustain us in times of disaster. They are well rehearsed, and they prevailed when Matthew struck last year. They were established early, and early was good.

After listening to the comments shared by leaders in less fortunate areas, most particularly our neighbors on Tybee Island, the magnitude of importance of our established beach renourishment plans pervaded my thoughts. So let me emphasize the objectives and strengths of your town's hallmark program, as addressed by Scott P. Liggett, PE, director of Public Projects and Facilities and chief engineer for the Town of Hilton Head Island.

According to Scott, the three primary program objectives, in no particular order, are to provide a recreational amenity, storm protection and protection of natural habitat. He also highlighted these points as strengths of the program:

"The program enjoys a reliable funding source, which happens to be locally collected. I am aware of no other municipality that has the independent wherewithal to manage its beach affairs like we do. The Beach Preservation Fee (2 percent accommodations tax) collected since 1993, currently derives about $6 million per year. Initially, it allowed us to not only build projects, but also to buy land and develop beach parks," Scott said.

"There exists political restraint since 1993 to not raid the account and divert or direct funds away from the mission at hand, and a fundamental understanding of the island-specific processes at work, littoral transport mechanisms, a sediment budget and known, nearby offshore sources of sand. Only a small fraction of the total sand available in our nearshore shoals has been used. Some of what we have used has been naturally replenished."

Other important points include: The local control lines that minimize the likelihood of (re)development encroaching further seaward; the establishment of a minimum beach condition and a work plan to maintain it; and removal or infill of ill-advised structures placed during the earlier days of development.

Periodic, large-scale projects are the norm here in order to minimize unit costs of sand and mobilization costs.

Finally, Scott identifies as vital the access standards (walkways and boardwalks), the absence of oceanfront stormwater discharges, over-arching community support and a very favorable cost benefit ratio. Considering project costs versus value of property we are trying to protect and the annual tax revenues these properties generate.

So, there you have it. Your town has a gold standard for beach renourishment, and we should all be grateful for it and those who implement it diligently.

David Bennett is the mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island. DavidB@hiltonhead islandsc.gov

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