Vitamins from the Sea
By Kip Tabb –
Nags Head Completes Largest Municipal Funded Beach Nourishment Project in the US –
When the last load of sand was pumped to the Nags Head beach and the town’s beach nourishment project came to an end, it seemed an anticlimactic finish to a controversial project.
Moving to preserve their shoreline and protect homes and property adjacent to it, the project was the largest and most costly ever completely funded by a municipality in the United States.
Beach nourishment projects are typically paid for by a combination of local, state and federal funds, but when county and local governments were unable to agree on a financial package to pay for their share, Nags Head elected officials felt they had no choice but to move forward on their own.
On May 24 of this year, the Nags Head beach nourishment began when the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company dredge Liberty Island arrived off South Nags Head.
Beach nourishment is an intricate process—perhaps a dance of hard science, proven technology and timing.
The sand that is pumped onto the beach is actually mined by the dredges, and the sand must match the sand on the shoreline. “The sand must be similar to the sand on the beach,” Dr. Tim Kana, President and founder of Coastal Science and Engineering, said. Coastal Science was awarded the contract for the project. “Operationally using the same sand is better aesthetically and gives us better longevity. The personality of the beach will also be similar to the natural beach. If we use sand that’s too fine, it will wash out very quickly.”
The dredge area is typically in 45-60 of water and is far enough off shore that the dredging of the sand will not effect what happens on the beach. “The borrow areas are well beyond the limits of the nourished beaches,” Kana explained.
After filling with sand, the dredges maneuver as close to the shoreline as possible and pump the sand onto the beach. Bulldozers and grading crews then take over.
After the sand is spread on the beach, a complex shoreline process begins. A portion of the nourished beach is designed to wash out to sea and form a protective sandbar just offshore.
Initially the nourished sand will have a different appearance than the original beach, but that will quickly revert to the original look of the beach, according to Dr. Kana. “If we use a source of quality sand, then it looks and acts just like the sand on the beach,” he says. “After the project is completed, you really can’t tell the difference between the nourished and natural beaches.”
As the dredges work the mine area, a boat – a shrimp boat, in this case – always precedes it.
Because the dredging action is so disruptive, there is risk to sea life, especially turtles. The boat that is in front of the dredge has one task – to scoop the turtles up and release them behind the dredge.
Captain Wayne Magwood, a third generation shrimp fisherman from Charleston, SC, has been scooping up turtles and moving them to safety for a number of years “We’re saving turtles,” he says. “I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”
He has spent his whole life on the sea, becoming a captain at age 16, more than 30 years ago. He first saw lead boats in a dredging operation when they were dredging the channel at Charleston in the early 1990s. “They had boats coming in from out of state,” Magwood recalls. “I was thinking, this is where I drop my nets.”
He wrote to his congressman and told him he wanted to put a bid in. “I got the job,” Magwood says.
He has been up and down the East Coast since that time, picking up sea turtles and moving them to safety. The work has been steady and he and Winds of Fortune, his boat, are always on call.
It comes at a price, however. “It’s guaranteed money,” he says. “But it’s a gamble, ‘cause they’re catching good shrimp at home right now.”
He was here through Irene – the Winds of Fortune, docked at Wanchese almost didn’t make it when the storm surge hit. “It (his boat) was 6’ over the dock,” he says. “Lucky it didn’t end up on dry land.”
Irene did push the timetable back by about a month, yet it also showed how effective beach nourishment can be.
Although the storm’s worst effects were on the soundside, ocean damage to property was minimal and very little of the sand in the completed sections of the project was lost.
Activity did stop though, until the ocean calmed down again, and the delay was cause for concern.
Almost all nourishment projects take place in the fall and winter to avoid the crush of visitors to the beaches and sea turtle nesting season. The dredge company, however, citing concerns about winter storms off the North Carolina coast did not feel they could operate safely in the winter.
“It’s a problem when you get north of Hatteras,” Dr. Kana says. “It’s very exposed, there’s not any shelter for the dredges, and there’s a high frequency of nor’easters. The dredge company considered it unsafe to operate in the winter time.”
Although a series of September storms slowed progress down, the project was actually a little ahead of schedule going into the fall. With good weather in October, the project was able to get back on schedule and finish by October 27.
“This is an important day not only for Nags Head, but also for the Outer Banks,” Town Manager Cliff Ogubrn said in a written statement from the town. “We have shown that a large scale, locally funded project is a viable alternative for communities who have never before benefited, or will no longer benefit, from federally-backed nourishment. In addition, we now know that . . . nourishment can . . . occur during the summer months, in the height of turtle nesting season.”