When the Atlantic Ocean threatens to wash away not just your beach, but also maybe your foundation, you might do a few things out of excitement that you wouldn't ordinarily do. A case in point: the Ocean Club condominium on the Atlantic shore of Isle of Palms, South Carolina, a barrier island near Charleston.
"Ocean Club sits at the edge of the beach at the unstable tip of Dewees Inlet. In the three-decade history of the resort, the exposed properties have gone from deep dunes to being battered by seas," reports the Charleston Post and Courier (see: "Wild Dunes condo owners appeal state fine for illegal seawall," by Bo Petersen.
So the condo owners did what they shouldn't of oughta: they built a wooden seawall in front of the building (without a permit), and then placed sandbags in front of that. The condo association's lawyers say the sandbags weren't meant to hide anything. As it turned out, however, the sandbags attracted more attention to the spot, as they broke up, washed away, and littered other parts of the beach. South Carolina authorities believe the condo association has been willfully flouting laws that prohibit hard structures on the beach, and the regulators have assessed a fine of $1,000 a day, retroactive to spring of 2013 when the wall was first constructed. The fine has passed $760,000 and is still piling up; the condo association has appealed the penalty.
Meantime, the sandbags have been removed and a state-run beach renourishment project is set to begin, the Post and Courier reports (see: Sandbags pulled from Wild Dunes beach; renourishment to start," by Bo Petersen).
Hard seawalls are frowned upon by shoreline protection experts because while they may or may not effectively protect one stretch of beach, they tend to deflect and intensify wave action in a way that may increase erosion on adjacent beach areas. But interestingly, the same stretch of beach where the illegal seawall controversy is happening is also a testing ground for an innovative new seawall system that could protect one part of the shoreline without adversely affecting the rest of it. Devised by carpenter Deron Nettles and installed with advice from local engineer Tim Mays, a professor of engineering at Charleston's Citadel military academy, the temporary structure is termed a "wave dissipation system" that diffuses the energy of the surf without trapping sand or deflecting the energy in other directions. "The idea is to break up the storm waves that cause the worst beach erosion, but allow water and fine sand to pass back and forth between the pipes, simulating the flow on an unobstructed beach," reports the Post and Courier (see: "'Wave dissipator' on Isle of Palms is an experimental approach to managing beach erosion," by Bo Petersen.)
While the allegedly covert seawall next door has been causing trouble, reports the Post and Courier, the experimental version seems to have been working (see: "Wild Dunes experimental seawall did its job," by Bo Petersen). "An experimental pipe wall placed in front of Seascape Villas condominiums protected it from Nor'easters and hurricane-stirred surf without eroding the beach in front. Meanwhile, surf crashed a hidden wooden seawall next door, gouged the beach in front, collapsed sandbags and washed some away," reports the paper. "The 'wave dissipation system' that resembles a giant Legos set worked so well that the condo association bought it."
The experimental wall is gone now, along with its illegal neighbor, so that the beach can be renourished with imported sand. South Carolina regulators say they haven't decided yet whether they'll allow Nettles' and Mays' experiment to be repeated elsewhere.