By JOY CRIST
On Tuesday, March 7, a public meeting was held at the Buxton Fessenden Center on the upcoming Buxton Beach Nourishment Project that is slated to start this summer. All the major players were there – including the Board of Commissioners, the National Park Service, the leaders from Coastal Science and Engineering (CSE), and the construction firm doing the dirty work – to explain the project in detail, and to answer questions.
And there certainly was a lot of ground, or rather sand, to cover.
So in case you were unable to attend the roughly two-hour meeting, or didn’t catch some of the details from the unending stream of information and multiple power point presentations, here’s a basic primer comprised of FAQs on what’s happening, and what to expect.
When did the beach nourishment project get started?
Though the area north of Buxton was identified as an NCDOT hot spot a few years ago, the project technically started in 2013 with an initial feasibility study conducted by CSE. From there, the legal process to obtain permits for the project commenced, which was fast tracked in order to replenish the Buxton beach sooner rather than later.
It was hoped that the beach nourishment project could be done in the summer of 2016, but the cost was prohibitive due to the tight schedule and unavailability of equipment - (specifically the dredge) - from the bidding contractors. Essentially, it would have cost $34.1 million to do the work in 2016, which was over the $22.96 million budget by about $12 million dollars. By waiting until 2017, when there was less of a crunch to reserve equipment and to get everything in place, the cost was only $22.15 million.
How is it going to work, and where is the new sand coming from?
An offshore dredge will deliver 2.6 million cubic yards of sand from a “borrow pit” that’s located 1.7 miles off the beach. Once on the shoreline, it will be shaped by a crew of dozers into a new and wider shoreline.
Will the area with the “new sand” look different from the rest of the beach?
In terms of the sand itself, probably not. The “borrow pit” site was specifically researched and chosen because the sand there was so similar in quality to the natural sand that is already on the area beaches.
With that being said, the shoreline itself is going to initially look weird. The beaches will appear oddly wide at first, (as they are being widened by 250’ feet), but the shoreline will eventually adjust over time as storms come in and unceremoniously push the oddly-wide beach sand closer to the outlying sand dunes. As Dr. Timothy W. Kana of CSC said at the meeting, “The sooner we have a nice big nor’easter after the project, the sooner we’ll have that natural looking beach.”
So the beach will be back to looking completely normal within a few months, depending on storms.
Do you think there will be some cool shells on the “new” beach, considering that sand is being brought in from 1.7 miles offshore?
Oh, that was my question too! I certainly hope so, (and I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely going to look.)
What area of the shoreline will be affected?
The northern project limit is at the "Haulover" north of Buxton, and the southern limit is at the oceanfront groin near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
The max length of the nourishment project is 15,500 ft., and the staging area will be the decommissioned Old Coast Guard Base in Buxton. This area includes roughly 11,000 ft. of undeveloped national seashore, just north of Buxton.
When is the beach nourishment happening, and how long will it take?
The project is scheduled to begin on or around June 1, and will be completed by August 31. (It will last a total of 90 days.)
Wait, isn’t the summertime sea turtle nesting season?
Why, yes. Yes it is. In fact, there were 28 sea turtle nests in the project area in 2016.
So what happens if a sea turtle lays a nest where the beach nourishment is slated to occur?
There are actually quite a few environmental protection measures in place for exactly this sort of situation. An endangered species monitor will be on board the dredge itself, and there will be both daytime and nighttime monitors on the beach throughout the process. If a sea turtle nest is found during the project, it will be relocated to a safer spot, and work will continue.
This situation has actually come up before, as during the 2011 Nags Head beach nourishment project, four sea turtle nests were laid within the project parameters. The four nests were relocated, and all had good hatching rates that were in-line with other sea turtle nests in the area.
What “annoyances” can I expect if the project is going on in front of me?
Dr. Kana said at the meeting that the most common complaint about past beach nourishment projects is the backing-up beeping of the dozers. There may also be lights on the beach throughout the night so that the crew can stick to a 24-hours-a-day schedule.
If I live / stay in Buxton, how long will the area in front of me be affected?
Dr. Kana also said at the meeting that the crew completes roughly 250’ feet of beach a day, with a total work area of about 1,000’ feet. As such, people in a targeted area will be impacted, directly, for roughly a week at most.
If the project is going on, can I still get to the beach?
Most likely, yes. The crew will work to leave a corridor for public access that’s close to the dune line. (The corridor will be available in stretches of beach that are essentially wide enough to have one.)
Will the project be filmed?
Hopefully! During the Nags Head Beach Nourishment Project, several videographers and tech-savvy locals and visitors set up cameras to film the action, and create cool videos of the process. (You can check out an especially neat time-lapse video that was featured at last week’s meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGs-OUIi9js)
While there’s no official videographer for the project, in that same vein, folks who want to set up their own web cam to record the action are welcome to. Just don’t stand in front of a dozer, or in the middle of the construction project, to get good footage.
Will sand dunes be built?
This question was asked at the meeting, and the answer is technically, no. They will probably form over time, (see aforementioned “storm-pushing-sand-off-the-beach” section), but they will not be physically created or sculpted during the project from dozers and other construction equipment.
With that being said. Dr. Kana noted at the meeting that installing sand fencing is likely the best way to go to encourage dune growth, and Dare County Commissioner Bob Woodard added that sand fencing may be an initiative - (and more importantly a cost) - that the county would be willing to cover. “It’s certainly within the realm of possibility - we did it in Nags Head,” he said.
Can I volunteer to drive one of the dozers?
This question was also asked at the meeting, and the unfortunate answer is no. (I’m sorry - I’m disappointed too.)
Is there an easy way to learn what’s going on with the project?
Yes! At the meeting, Dare County Public Information Officer Dorothy Hester and Dare County Media Specialist Sara Small outlined how the county will be providing ample info throughout the project through a central website called http://www.morebeachtolove.com.
The ensuing website is going to have tons of info, including interactive maps to see what properties are affected, printable brochures, a sign-up for email updates, and much more. (We’ll also be covering the project in detail at Island Free Press from start to finish, and will provide as many updates, photos, videos, etc. as possible.)
Is beach nourishment really needed for Buxton?
Yes. There’s a reason why this project was fast-tracked.
Anyone driving close to the northern edge of Buxton during a strong nor’easter or storm has likely noticed the sudden appearance of a river of water that flows from the ocean onto NC Highway 12, and which inundates the rest of the town in the process.
The problem has gotten worse over the years - while the local shoreline has become narrower - and it’s time to fix the hot spot.
After all, Buxton is home to some of our best known attractions, (and so is Frisco and Hatteras for that matter.) 2016 had the highest number of visitors to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 13 years, with an impressive 2.6 million visits. If folks can’t head to the lighthouse, the local museums, the ferry docks, or the dozens of amazing restaurants and shops found along the way, then that hurts everybody involved.
So while there are certainly drawbacks to a summer beach nourishment project, (just imagining the “BEEP BEEP BEEP” of a dozer is seriously distracting), it’s a much-needed step into ensuring our island stays open and enticing to the public.