Red tape complicates plan for more sand on Nags Head beach

By on November 16, 2017

The original project was done in 2011. (Rob Morris)

Starting beach re-nourishment by next spring will need a lot of working parts to mesh on a tight timeline that includes the endorsement of a Congressional committee, town commissioners were told Wednesday night.

In a special meeting, the Board of Commissioners received a detailed schedule for the 10-mile project, which would start by the end of May under the best circumstances. The latest it could start next year would be mid-July, Town Engineer David Ryan said.

Half of the $25.5 million maintenance project is being covered by Dare County. The rest will come from the town’s fund balance and an $11.5 million loan.


Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is processing a claim that would reimburse the town for unexpected losses from Hurricane Matthew last year.

The claim for $16.2 million will then go to a Congressional committee that considers payouts exceeding $1 million. It will pay for 1.4 million cubic yards of sand on top of the 2.3 million originally planned.

With numerous federal and state agencies in the mix, Ryan said some of the schedule’s components are beyond the town’s control, although contingencies are built in to what he described as a fluid document.

“We’ve been in contact with some of the permitting agencies, the FEMA folks, to let them know the urgency of trying to go ahead and move forward in this process,” Ryan said.

Before anything can proceed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will need to provide FEMA with a biological opinion, which examines the project’s affect on marine life and shorebirds. That is expected by the end of the year.


Applications for federal and state permitting are already in the pipeline.

Doubts were expressed about the alternative of breaking the project into two parts if FEMA does not stick to the town’s projected timeline. If some of the sand is pumped onto the beach this summer, it may not hold up until more can be added next year.

Costs of sand would go up, and deploying the dredges, pipes, pumps, bulldozers and other equipment would add significantly to the cost.


Ryan said plans for considering bids in February include 2019 if the town is forced to wait a year.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn said the new board, which will be sworn in next month, would have to include the FEMA grant in the financing because as a reimbursement, it would not get to the town until the project has already started.

If pumping starts by May 31, Ryan said, the target for finishing is Sept. 30. The latest it could start is July 16 with a completion date of Nov. 16. After that, winter weather, rough seas and limited availability of dredges will come into play.

To cover the financing, property owners town-wide in Nags Head are paying an additional 2.7 cents per $100 of value for beach nourishment. Oceanside owners pay 17.5 cents on top of that.

The original project, which was finished in August of 2011, put 4.6 million cubic yards of sand onto the beach at a cost of $30.8 million, or $6.70 per cubic yard.

A survey shortly after Hurricane Matthew indicated that the shoreline had lost a third of the sand — 1.43 million cubic yards — from the original project.

The results came as a surprise. The storm in early October was notable more for its rain flooding in Nags Head than storm surge. Hurricane Hermine in late August was not as memorable, but heavy surf seemed to have caused more erosion, at least temporarily.

A June 2016 survey, before Matthew, showed etabout 90 percent of the sand remained in the system.

FEMA considers the beach and nearshore out to 19 feet in depth part of what the town’s consultant, Tim Kana of Coastal Science and Engineering, calls the “sandbox.”

The Dare County Board of Commissioners has already approved spending up to $12.7 million for maintenance. The money will come from the county’s beach nourishment fund, which is supplied by 2 percent of the occupancy tax.

The other half for basic maintenance will be covered by a $11.57 million bond paid off over five years from the additional town taxes.


  • Luminous

    Was the survey showing so much sand lost during Matthew done by an impartial party? In my personal, non-expert opinion, Matthew did *not* cause that level of damage. There was other storm activity in June through September 2016 that may have caused some of the loss, and the loss of sand prior to 2016 may have been under-reported. In my opinion the town is using Matthew as an excuse to try to get FEMA to pay for part of its beach renourishment.

    An impartial party, not the sand nourishment contractor, needs to be doing these surveys. Otherwise we have the fox guarding the henhouse–too much potential for conflict of interest to take these reports seriously.

    Thursday, Nov 16 @ 5:04 pm
  • Bud

    Would not need ‘nourishment’ if dune lines were not constructed and overwash was allowed, which builds elevation, width and nourish the sounds.

    Friday, Nov 17 @ 7:28 am
  • Czarina

    FEMA paying for lost sand????

    Friday, Nov 17 @ 7:41 am
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