Federal funding helps Tybee beach renourishment projects; city will have to fund rest

Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 2:43 PM EST
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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - Tybee Island is starting the new year off on a good note.

President Joe Biden signed the Water Resources Development Act, which extends the island’s partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for future beach renourishment projects.

Tybee has had this partnership with the Corps of Engineers for 50 years and with this new act signed, secured 12 more. This federal support is step one.

Now, the city must figure out how they’ll come up with the money they need to fund their part of the overall renourishment cost.

“Our beach is absolutely everybody’s beach,” Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions said.

Mayor Sessions said she believes this is why they had support from Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and people like Rep. Buddy Carter who pushed to get the president’s signature on this agreement.

An agreement that’s vital for the island’s well-being.

“We knew that the current agreement ended in 2024 and we knew that that 2020 nourishment was our last formal nourishment under the agreement, barring hurricane damage, so we’ve been working for the last three years with everyone,” Tybee Island’s Resiliency Efforts Project Manager Alan Robertson said.

Having federal authorization means when Tybee does their next renourishment project, which Robertson expects will be in 2026, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will fund about 60 percent of it.

“Tybee is going to have to come with the other 35%-40% of that money,” Mayor Sessions said.

Sessions says the city needs help from the county and the state to pay their end of the bargain, which is millions of dollars. At the end of 2022, there were lengthy negotiations on how to split local options sales tax funds between Chatham County and its eight municipalities. A big hold up was how much of the split would go toward Tybee’s beach renourishment.

“But the chairman and the commissioners did not support that and that has led to where we are now,” Mayor Sessions said.

With no money for beach renourishment coming from LOST funds, Sessions says Chairman Chester Ellis asked to meet about how they can help fund renourishment from SPLOST funds.

“If a hurricane damages the beach as Matthew did and Irma did then the corps is authorized to come in and prepare the beach at the federal government’s cost,” Robertson said.

Which was the case for the last renourishment project finished in 2020. However, Robertson says the city will not and does not want to rely on this and needs to have a payment plan of their own.

“This is a never-ending job. With every nourishment our beach gets a little healthier and a little bigger,” Robertson said.

Mayor Sessions says the city plans to meet with Chairman Ellis at the end of January. She says they will also meet with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s office to see how the state can help fund the next project as well. She says she’s hopeful that it will get sorted out.