Two decades in the works, beach widening begins

By on May 24, 2011

The first stream of offshore sand Tuesday. Above, crews had covered about two blocks by Wednesday. (Voice photos)

After a couple of false starts, a dredge offshore sent a slurry of sand onto the Nags Head beach at nightfall Tuesday, starting a nourishment project with roots dating back at least two decades.

A small crowd gathered near the end of E. Lakeside Street shortly before sundown as bulldozers stood ready near a 30-inch pipe that looked like an antique cannon propped above the shorebreak.

The first burst of slurry was probably sand still in the pipe from a previous job, said Tim Kana of Coastal Science & Engineering, the manager of the project.

Green seawater followed as some glitches were worked out with the pump. Finally, as darkness took over, the first fresh sand mixed with seawater billowed onto the beach. It didn’t smell.

A light tower and spotlights from bulldozers created an other-worldly scene as the long-planned project finally got under way.

The Liberty Island prepares to hook up to the pipeline. (Russ Lay photo)

The dredge Liberty Island had scooped up the sand from a borrow area about 2 miles offshore and then steamed in to hook up to the pipeline within sight of the shore.

“I think it’ll take a couple of weeks even to see what we’ve got,” said Mayor Bob Oakes.

Dredging wasn’t supposed to start until early June, but the Liberty Island, a hopper dredge more than 300 feet long, was freed up earlier than expected. Hopes are for the project to wrap up by October, barring major storms or malfunctions.

“I hope it moves along quickly,” Oakes said.

Christian Legner briefs turtle watch team Anthony Siegle and Genevieve Noyes. (Russ Lay photo)

Nearby a turtle watch team was being briefed on how to keep tabs on the project and warn of any nest or turtle sightings. Teams of two will observe from dusk to dawn each day, said Christian Legner, one of the monitors.

Oakes was joined by Commissioner Anna Sadler as they witnessed the moment after more than a year of working through several different funding plans, permitting and finally a lawsuit over easements.

But the origins of the project go back since before 2007, when Nags Head voters rejected a referendum to pay an extra 5 cents in property tax to help fund the project. Oceanfront property owners would have paid even more.

Slurry that came out initially was probably sand still in the pipe from an earlier job. (Voice photo)

It started out as a Dare County project studied in the early 1990s and authorized by Congress in 1998. But it was never federally funded. With South Nags Head losing houses each year to erosion, the town decided to move ahead on its own.

By using its share of occupancy tax revenues as collateral, the town was able to borrow $18 million without going to the voters. Property owners townwide will pay an extra 2 cents per $100 of value to help pay the loan back over five years.

Owners in two special tax districts will pay another 16 cents. The rest will be covered by an extra 1 percent on the occupancy tax paid by visiting renters. Another $18 million will come from the Dare County Shoreline Management Fund.

The $34 million to $36 million project will cover 10 miles of beach with 4.6 million cubic yards of sand.

It is the first time a large-scale, engineered nourishment project has been attempted on the norther Outer Banks.

Plans are to work on 500 feet of beach daily to minimize the impact on summer renters.

A timeline for the work can be found here.

In the background, a section of beach had about tripled in width Monday. (Voice photo)


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