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Checking in on the Buxton Beach Renourishment Project

Friday 01 September 2017 at 9:50 pm.

By JOY CRIST

Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands have certainly had a number of big projects in the works lately.

There’s the new passenger ferry to Ocracoke Island, the proposed multi-use path in Hatteras village, the dredging of Hatteras Inlet and of course, the Bonner Bridge replacement – which seems to grow in scale with every trip up the beach.

But the Buxton Beach Nourishment project – yet another ongoing project that was in the spotlight this past summer – has had a number of schedule adjustments, unintended interruptions, and proposed equipment additions since it was first outlined at a March 7 public meeting.

So where are we at with the beach nourishment, and what’s happening next?

First off, the parameters of the project remain the same. The goal is to widen a stretch of beach that extends for 15,500 feet (2.94 miles), and which includes 11,000 feet of undeveloped Cape Hatteras National Seashore, just north of Buxton.

Project manager Coastal Science and Engineering (CSE) and construction firm Weeks Marine are delivering 2.6 million cubic yards of sand from a “borrow pit” that’s located 1.7 miles off the beach to complete the project. Anyone who has spent some time on the beach from Buxton to Frisco has likely spotted the large dredge vessel C.R. McCaskill stationed offshore, and anyone who has hopped over the dunes to take a peek in northern Buxton has certainly been able to notice the difference between the completed region, and the area that still needs to be tackled.

Originally, the project was slated to begin in early June and finish by the end of the summer, but natural factors have changed these plans.

The dredging had to be interrupted several times during the summer because of storms. The most recent interruption occurred on August 23, when the C.R. McCaskill used the delay as an opportunity to have the U.S. Coast Guard's mandatory dry dock inspection performed in Charleston, South Carolina.

And as CSE Senior Coastal Engineer Haiqing Liu Kaczkowski explains, the weather-related interruptions have more to do with waves than winds.

“The combination of wind-generated waves and ground swells is the determining factor for dredge operations,” she says. “4-5 feet of wave height in the borrow area will cause [an interruption.]”

When waves are over 10 feet, the dredge is moved to the closest safe harbor – generally Norfolk or Morehead City – until it is safe to return.

“Historic wave data for offshore Buxton show the average wave heights are above 5 feet from September to April, and this summer Buxton has experienced higher-than-normal wave conditions. There’s another storm forming in the Atlantic at this moment,” says Kaczkowski.

We’re approaching the height of the hurricane season, too, so it’s justifiable to assume that more delays may be on the horizon. The deadline was recently set to Mid-December in part because of the unpredictable weather, and the fact that the state and federal permits do not have time restrictions for this particular project. (Per the contract, the project needs to be completed by the middle of December, 2017.)

The more promising news is that a good chunk of the work is done, and that help is on the way for the remainder of the project.

Per Kaczkowski, as of last Wednesday, the contractor had pumped 36% of the project volume, which is the target measurement for the project’s completion. In terms of area covered, roughly 20% of the 2.94 mile stretch of beach has been completed.

The C.R. McCaskill is slated to return in mid-September after the mandatory inspection is complete, and when it does, it will have company.

A hopper dredge, the R.N. Weeks, is also scheduled to arrive at roughly the same time.

“They have already laid the subline for the hopper dredge, so they’ll be ready for it when it arrives,” says Dorothy Hester, Public Information Officer for Dare County.

And the hopper dredge has a slight advantage when it comes to weather.

“The hopper dredge has a little bit higher tolerance [to wave height] than the other dredge does,” says Kaczkowski. “It will also help to increase the production rate. It will be twice as fast as having only one dredge.”

The two dredges will work in different areas – concentrating on the southern end of the project – and will have two different landing points. The personnel involved in the project will also double, although the bulldozer count may remain the same as six dozers are at the site, and three are currently on stand-by.

There’s still concern that additional delays are coming, especially with Irma haunting the Atlantic, and another tropical wave behind her that is looking to gain strength.

Hester says that these concerns have been brought up at the weekly Wednesday meetings that the county has with representatives from both CSC and Weeks Marine.

“In some of the meetings, the county has expressed concern about the amount of time the dredge has been unable to work,” says Hester, “However, [the contractors] are still are very confident they will complete it by the end of December – they feel very strongly about that.”

The mid-December deadline also gives a little wiggle room for the unforeseen. “This is such a comprehensive project. That’s why the contractor has that extra time - so they can finish the project and demobilize,” says Kaczkowski. “If the weather cooperates, the contractor will be able to finish by the end of the contract time.”

In the meantime, island residents who have been too busy with summertime work to check out the project should take a break, and take a look. The wide beach of the completed area is pretty striking, especially compared to the adjacent narrow shoreline that still needs to be addressed. (Bonus – the shells aren’t that bad in the new stretch of sand that came from 1.7 miles away, and the nearby Cape Hatteras Motel has “We Got Pumped” T-Shirts for sale, which is pretty darn clever.)

And for folks who can’t make a personal visit in the future, Dare County has been doing a great job in keeping the public informed on the project, and even has an interactive and detailed map of the project status, which can be found here: http://www.darenc.com/departments/public-relations/beach-nourishment.

While the dredge action is at a standstill for at least the next several weeks, the Buxton Beach Nourishment project – like the other big projects happening all along the island – is still moving forward.

One comment

Salvo Jimmy

I note the S-Curve / Mirlo beach nourishment project was completed in Sep 2014 and now there is major overwash there from a storm well off shore.

Salvo Jimmy - 20-09-’17 00:09




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