PAWLEYS ISLAND — Thousands of Lowcountry visitors drive Myrtle Avenue each year, but as Georgetown County’s famed barrier island faces a forecast of a higher Atlantic Ocean in the future, the roads future visitors drive could be a bit higher.
Such a concept is mentioned in the sea-level rise adaptation plan for which the town hired Nicole Elko of Elko Coastal Consulting in April. In the plan’s preparation, the town decided to prepare for 2 feet of water level increase over the next three decades, double the sea-level rise forecast in a report compiled by several federal agencies earlier in 2022. Such a level is capable of flooding about 40 percent of the island’s roads, according to flood mapping by the College of Charleston.
Elko’s plan includes recommendations on combined use of “gray” and “green” infrastructure as well as planning — one of the planning recommendations being adoption of a king tide operations policy to mitigate the effect of the oversized tides the town sees roughly once a month.
And among the recommendations in a section on new approaches to resilience on the island: “Petition SCDOT to develop a strategic plan to elevate coastal roads.”
Such a concept is not new to the S.C. Department of Transportation, Elko said.
“I think they’re working with S.C. Sea Grant (Consortium) to do an analysis of just that,” Elko said.
To address the flooding that often plagues the island’s low-lying areas, Elko said, a “coordinated approach” of elevating not just one part of the island is necessary.
“You could think of it almost like a cross-section,” Elko said. “The beach … the road, the marsh or the creekside. So you’re looking across the island at all of those components, and the roads are certainly a very important element.”
Pawleys Island Town Administrator Daniel Newquist said each of the plan’s recommendations will require research before implementation.
“Certainly, the roads on Pawleys Island appear to be at ground level or below,” Newquist said. “We’re talking about a matter of inches, I think, not a matter of feet. I’d like to research that further.”
Newquist spent over a decade working with the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments prior to taking on his new role in July. The council serves municipalities in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.
In his previous job, Newquist said, he had not heard the idea of road elevation discussed to a “major” degree.
“You heard some expressed interest in that following Hurricane Florence (in 2018) and the floods in and around the Conway area,” Newquist said.
Flooding from Florence so devastated Conway that then-President Donald Trump toured the area in the days following the hurricane’s landfall. The Waccamaw River eventually crested at just over 21 feet, 3 feet higher than the level it reached during Hurricane Matthew two years earlier.
“I think what we’re dealing with here is if we can reduce the frequency of this nuisance flooding, any little bit helps,” Newquist said. “So even if it’s a few inches, I think that reduces not only the footprint of those areas that flood, but also the frequency at which they flood.”
With Councilman Ashley Carter absent, the rest of Town Council and Mayor Brian Henry voted unanimously on Dec. 12 to adopt the plan.
“I think the report is very good, I don’t think the report is the end-all, be-all, but what we’re doing tonight is voting to adopt the resolution,” Henry said on Dec. 12. “You ever hear the term ‘shovel-ready’? The federal government says ‘Well, we’ll give you money, but are you shovel-ready?’ This gets us not shovel-ready, but pretty darn close to it.”
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