Sand and Patience eroding after a month of ‘king tides,’ Hurricane Joaquin, and a 1,000-year flood

By Bill Davis | Staff Writer

Erosion on Folly Beach isn’t supposed to happen quite so quickly.

Folly Beach City Administrator Spencer Wetmore confirmed last week that Folly Beach lost 400,000 cubic yards sand from last year’s beach renourishment in the wake of Hurricane Joaquin.

Wetmore, until recently the mayor’s assistant, stated that the amount of sand lost was equal for almost one-third of the 1.4 million cubic yards of sand Folly Beach received last year.

Last year’s renourishment project was completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a cost of more than $30 million. Wetmore said the city was responsible for approximately one-sixth of that cost amount.

According to Wetmore, the majority of the lost sand was on the east end of the barrier island, facing what had been Morris Island. One of the bigger losses was in the area of cleaner sand behind berms and the “construction line,” she said.

Wetmore found it difficult to quantify the loss of sand; but said that instead of a 15-foot beach along portions of the east end at high tide, there is now only an 8-foot beach.

Usually, Folly Beach loses its sand to erosion caused primarily by jetties in the Charleston Harbor. Sand, according to scientists, makes a long counterclockwise migration from the U.S to Africa and back.

But jetties and groins meant to protect other beaches and water elements can redirect the flow of sand to skip a beach, like Folly. Wetmore said that Folly’s biggest problem, pre-Joaquin, was the “chronic” disruption of sand.

“Folly is now completely without protection,” said Wetmore, adding that she is working with the county to come up with a total damage estimate for the city.

Folly Beach City Council voted last week to hire lobbyist firm Southern Stategy Group for $60,624 per year in order to help communicate with state lawmakers about the impact of erosion and the importance of beach preservation to the economy of the coastal regions and the state as a whole.

The City of Folly Beach is also in the process of applying for emergency rehabilitation assistance for damage to the renourishment.

Much of the potential damage to the city and its residents was mitigated by zoning laws that had heightened requirements for drainage and for homes to be elevated clear of the flood waters, according to Wetmore.

Photos abound on social media of the damage the storm did do to Folly:

• Stairs that were supposed to land softly onto sand were engulfed in ocean water;

• Waterfront homes seemed to become more water than “front”

• And rock walls meant to hold sand back from leaking into the sea, ended up protecting sand from rising waters.

Wetmore is not sure where a quick source of sand may be found to replace what has been lost, but notes there’s a sand pit on nearby Johns Island.

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