In June the Town of Hilton Head Island launched its $20.7 million dollar beach renourishment project as a way to protect one of its most celebrated and vital attractions.
The project uses hydraulic dredging pumps to gather more than 2.1 million cubic yards of sand from two offshore shoal locations and discharge it along 8.2 miles of beach.
The project, funded by a long-standing 2 percent tax imposed on overnight lodging, will last until mid-October. The project engineer is Olsen Associates Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., and the construction contractor is Weeks Marine Inc., of Covington, La.
"The town has a three-pronged method for this project," said Scott Liggett, director of Public Projects and Facilities for the Town. "First, we aim to maintain the recreational amenity for residents and visitors. Second is a storm buffer, the extra sand from the renourishment project acts as a shock absorber. Third is the environmental side, as we aim to reconstruct habitat for sea turtles and other wildlife."
However, though the project was originally scheduled for the fall to avoid interfering with the summer tourist season, concerns over the migratory flight pattern of the endangered piping plover led to a mid-summer to early fall project timeline. The change caused concerns among some residents and resort officials.
"Of course, there have been calls, but we are working very heavily with the resorts and communities," said Liggett.
Work in Port Royal Plantation, one of the residential communities affected by the delay, has been completed.
Loggerhead sea turtles also have been affected by the rescheduling of the project. Nesting and hatching season takes place between May 1 and Oct. 31, and this year marks a Hilton Head record with 410 nests lining its beaches.
Nests found within the path of construction had to be moved to ensure the safety of the nests and hatching sea turtles. Though the timing directly interferes with the nesting habits of the sea turtles, the project benefits them in other ways.
"One of the good parts of the project is that we have lost a lot of dunes, and (renourishment) will help rebuild them," said Amber Kuehn, Sea Turtle Project manager at the Coastal Discovery Museum. "When hatchlings get out of their nest, they need a dune to see a dark background so they don't get distracted by extra light or an open landscape. These dunes will help rebuild their habitat and provide darkness and structure."
Kuehn said the Town has worked well with her organization throughout the complex project.
"It's unfortunate that we had to have it during the season, because of the extra attention and care necessary," said Kuehn. "Still, we've had great support from the town, and anything we need we've gotten it. They are in full support of us, and they've been taking the heat for everybody."
To learn more,, visit www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov for timelines, maps, FAQs and more.
Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Hilton Head Sun.