Sweetgrass used to help prevent beach erosion

Published: Nov. 10, 2011 at 9:20 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2011 at 11:28 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - As hurricane season wraps up at the end of the month, the Army Corps of Engineers says their projects to protect Folly Beach from erosion have helped.

Powerful waves and high winds. The forces of mother nature are all partly to blame for washing away Folly Beach. The Army Corps of Engineers does regular renourishment projects to protect homes and the beach from the erosion.

"We realize the vulnerability on the beach right now. The message I'd like to get across is if the storm damage reduction project had not been in place prior to Irene, those houses may have incurred considerable damage," Army Corps project manager Brian Williams said.

The Army Corps of Engineers says renourishment includes bringing sand from other areas to the beach and testing out plants to see if they could help keep the dunes from blowing away.

"One of the plants that we've had great success with is this sweetgrass. We started taking it and planting it on the back side of dunes," Army Corps Plant Specialist Tommy Socha said.

The Corps planted 3600 sweetgrass plants on Folly Beach in 2005. Engineers say the grass blades and root system of sweetgrass helps trap the sand. Because it was a success on Folly Beach, they also planted sweetgrass in Myrtle Beach and on Dafusky Island.

Plant experts say around summertime sweetgrass can be harvested, which is good for the plant and for people in the Gullah-Geechee culture, who use it to make and sell the tightly coiled sweetgrass baskets.

"We're helping save a cultural resource, which is the basket weaving. If we can do that and also help bring in tourists, what more can you ask for in a plant," Socha said. The Army Corps says anyone interested in harvesting sweetgrass must first call the City of Folly Beach.

Other plants the Army Corps has used to preserve the dunes include American beach grass and sea oats. They have planted more than 2 million plants along South Carolina's coast to prevent erosion.

The Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District says it has determined that another beach renourishment is needed for Folly Beach by 2013. It has already submitted a request for $18 million from the federal government to design and construct the project.