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From The Blog

East End Beach Restoration Project

Plans for the East End Beach Restoration Project were presented to a standing-room-only audience at a public meeting at Town Hall on January 31. Dr. Tim Kana of Coastal Science and Engineering, who serves at the Town consultant, began with an overview of the beach based on his experience monitoring Kiawah Island for over 30 years.

Kiawah Island is a “drumstick barrier island” as are most South Carolina islands, so called because of their distinctive shape, having a larger area on one end. This is caused by a process called shoal bypassing wherein a shoal becomes attached to the end of the island by accretion of sand.

Erosion of the beach past the shoal is a result. Usually, during the next few years, movement of sand down the beach fills in the eroded areas. However, according to Dr. Kana, experts have never seen a shoal bypass event like the one on Kiawah. Over five million yards of sand have been added to the end of the island in the past ten years. Because of the size and configuration of the resulting bulge, the expected pattern of natural rejuvenation will not occur for at least a decade, allowing erosion of the beach to continue.

Three alternative solutions to the erosion problem have been studied. The first, do nothing and allow nature to take its course, would cause greater damage to the already affected areas and endanger properties farther down the beach. A second solution is a band-aid approach, using beach scraping and renourishment in selected sections. Experience elsewhere has shown that this method is seldom successful as a long-term solution because the erosion process quickly washes the new sand away. The third solution, recommended by Dr. Kana, is one that would mimic nature’s effect on the shoreline. The bulge would be removed by earthmovers and the sand redistributed down the beach as would happen naturally under normal circumstances. The massive project will entail moving approximately 450,000 cubic yards of sand over this summer.

In answer to some audience concerns about the effects of this project on the ecology of that part of the beach, Dr. Kana made several points. Marsh areas that have recently been created behind the new sand spits will be improved through the relocation of the flushing channel that provides them with water. The protected piping plovers will have a larger resting area as they visit that part of the island on their annual migrations. Loggerhead turtle nesting will not be endangered by construction, because each morning before work begins the beach will be checked for signs of overnight turtle visits and new nests moved out of harm’s way.

In response to a question regarding the effects of a hurricane on the reconfigured area, Dr. Kana said that a large storm would wash over the newly leveled bulge and accelerate movement of sand down the beach in a positive way.

During the meeting Mayor Bill Wert explained that beaches are usually public land supported with Federal funds. Kiawah Island is a gated community, so Federal money cannot be used for beach repair without opening the island to the public. Therefore, the Town of Kiawah has responsibility for the beach. A fund supported by the Town Accommodation Tax is maintained for this purpose and for other Town projects outside the Main Gate.

The estimated cost for the beach renovation project is between $1 and $1.5 million. Because of the importance of the project the Board of Directors of the Kiawah Island Community Association has volunteered to assist by contributing one quarter of the cost or an amount not to exceed $500,000 (see related article). The Town and other major island entities would provide the remainder of the funding. Town officials are hopeful that all planning, permitting and funding issues will be resolved by March. Slides and maps shown at the beach restoration meeting can be downloaded from the Town website at