View from the dredge: Replenishing Folly from 4 miles offshore

Emily Landeen (WCIV)

By Stacy

FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (WCIV) --{}In the distant waters off Folly Beach part of a multi-million-dollar project churns that should keep the beach from eroding for several years to come.

As the sun rises, the dredge and its operators are already hard at work.

"We work 6 [a.m.] to 6 [p.m.]," lever man Thomas Gillikin said.

Men like Gillikin work 12-hour shifts on the dredge for two weeks at a time. Gillikin is one of about 70 employees who keep the dredge moving.

"The hardest part of it is being away from family. Other than that, it's great. I like the different places we travel and see," he said.

They mostly work beach re nourishment projects like the one on Folly, he said. The $30 million project will ensure there is a beach for a decade to come, according to officials with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The dredge has a lot of technical tools; computers monitor temperature, pressure and pumps help mine just enough sand from the ocean bottom. The Army Corps hired contractor Great Lakes Dredge and Dock to do the work.

"The hydraulic cutter-suction dredge has a ladder that digs in to the bottom of the ocean floor. So it sucks it up like a vacuum cleaner," project manager David Johanson said.

The main pump, nicknamed "Big Red," gives the sand enough power to get through a long pipeline that connects through the Atlantic Ocean and on to the beach.

"Behind the dredge, there's 2,000 feet of floating pipeline which allows the dredge to maneuver. Then it connects to a submerged pipeline that runs along the ocean floor to the beach," the project manager said.

It's work they can savor, knowing they're serving a public good.

"I do look at the project in the beginning and the end to see the difference we made with the beach size and how it looks," Gillikin said. "I just hope they enjoy the beach and realize it's a lot of hard work to keep it like that. Really, it's a lot of time and money spent to have the beach."

To be exact, the project to preserve Folly costs about $30 million. But, for the federal government, no price seems too big for preserving the Edge of America.

The federal government paid for 85 percent of the project, while the city of Folly Beach paid for the rest.

Parts of Folly Beach will be closed through May. The path of the pipeline spraying sand on the beach will be marked by yellow buoys, officials said.