Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett and coastal engineering consultant Ken Willson participated in a “project kickoff meeting” on April 29 for a beach nourishment project in Southern Shores that has yet to be defined or approved by the Town Council, according to a “tentative schedule” submitted May 14 by Mr. Willson.
Mr. Willson’s tentative schedule of “milestones”—written in dense prose as a letter to Mr. Haskett—is the only document in tomorrow’s Town Council workshop meeting packet with which The Beacon believes the public need concern itself. We suggest you turn to page two of the letter and look at the proposed timeline graphic there.
The Council meets at 9 a.m. tomorrow in the Pitts Center for a workshop meeting that is focused on discussing a potential 2022 beach nourishment of the entire Southern Shores coastline, not just the vulnerable Pelican Watch oceanfront, which is scheduled for its five-year maintenance then.
Mr. Willson is president/senior program manager of Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina, Inc. (CPE-NC), which formerly did business as APTIM and is the engineering firm selected by the managers of Southern Shores, Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills to coordinate their 2022 projects.
Before the Council has what The Beacon trusts will be a thorough, extensive, and thoughtful discussion about the need for a large-scale beach nourishment in Southern Shores two years from now, it will hold a closed session with the Town Attorney, after which it may announce the hiring of a new full-time town manager.
The Beacon hopes the Council will hire an experienced, highly skilled outside candidate who will bring much-needed order and structure to a protracted years-long conversation in Town about beach nourishment. The Beacon has written more than a dozen articles about the subject—probably many more, we stopped counting—since we launched our blog in April 2018. We refer you to all of what we have reported and opined before.
The reason we say Mr. Willson’s tentative schedule is the only information in tomorrow’s meeting packet worth the public’s perusal is because the beach-nourishment financial data in the packet are hypothetical, based on cost estimates provided by Mr. Willson in January (costs usually increase with time), and “for discussion purposes only,” according to Mr. Haskett.
They also are removed from the reality of our COVID 19-altered financial world.
Until such time as the Town staff organizes the speculative financial data and beach-nourishment project data into an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand summary of the facts, such as they can be determined, however, the public is not going to be fully informed, for purposes of a survey or hearing. It will likely fall back on anecdotal evidence, as it has done before in previous hearings on the subject.
According to the workshop agenda, the Council will hear tomorrow from Town staff about “publicity/educational options for future public hearing.” This was an idea suggested by Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey at the Council’s May 5 meeting.
The key word here is educational.
The public should not have to pore over consultants’ cumbersome reports in order to grasp what is at stake. And yet, that is what Town staff has always compelled the public to do.
At the same time, a Town Council majority has refused to invite oceanographers and other coastal environmental experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Field Research Facility—just up the road from us—to a public meeting to give their opinions on APTIM’s research and recommendations, which underlie the four beach-nourishment project options that the Council will be considering tomorrow.
Southern Shores homeowners have repeatedly requested an assessment from experts at the Field Research Facility, which is better known locally as the Duck Research Pier. Chicahauk homeowner Craig Albert is the latest property owner to publicly ask the Town Council—the new one, not last year’s—to obtain an expert second opinion before making a decision on nourishing the Town’s beaches.
For scientific opinions, see The Beacon 9/19/19 and 2/1/20.
The graphic on page two of Mr. Willson’s “milestones” letter outlines the start and completion dates for the following in a large-scale beach nourishment project:
*Interagency coordination (done in April);
*Identification of suitable sand for the project;
*Federal and state permitting;
*Acquisition of easements from property owners for construction;
*Development of construction plans and specifications;
*Financing, including the establishment of municipal service districts for the levying of higher tax rates on owners of property with closest proximity to the ocean (as recommended by a paid financial consultant);
*Solicitation of construction bids;
*Awarding of the contract; and
*Construction of the project (between May and October 2022).
This timeline contemplates substantial development, engineering design, and permitting work being done before the Town Council figures out how to pay for Southern Shores’ share of the actual $14 million to $16-million or more project costs. Dare County will contribute some monies.
As Mr. Haskett writes in a May 13 memorandum to the Town Council, “a final decision on the funding of the project will not be required until budget discussions for the fiscal year 2021-22.”
Mr. Willson’s timeline shows the establishment of MSDs in Southern Shores starting in March 2021 and finishing in June 2021. (Legal requirements must be met.)
But to make a commitment to a beach-nourishment project without knowing how it is to be funded, and who will bear the brunt of increased taxation, is not good government. Tomorrow’s Council discussion must squarely, and intelligently, address financing.
We conclude this meeting preview with the current costs assigned to four beach-nourishment project options recommended by CPE-NC and under consideration by the Town Council:
Option One: $13,974,200
Option Three: $16,685,800
Option Four: $14,855,600
Option Five: $16,196,500
CPE-NC, acting as APTIM, first submitted cost estimates for three beach-fill plan options in December 2018 in what it called a Vulnerability Assessment and Beach Management Plan for Southern Shores.
Those estimates, originally options one, two, and three, ranged from $9 million to $13.5 million, and were distinguishable by the amount of sand being placed on the beach. (See The Beacon, 9/17/19, for a background summary.)
As explained in the 2018 report, APTIM used special technology and design storm scenarios to arrive at target sand-volume densities in cubic yards per linear foot (cy/lf) that it said must be maintained along the Southern Shores oceanfront in order to sustain it.
The engineering technology it used is known as a “Storm-Induced Beach Change Model” (SBEACH). The results that APTIM obtained with its SBEACH model, according to its 2018 assessment report, “informed the development [of the beach-nourishment plan options] with regards to what sections of the Town may be vulnerable to impacts from the design storm, and what amount of additional [sand] volume would be required to reduce that vulnerability.”
In other words, APTIM based its 2018 assessment report recommendations of sand volume density on theoretical storm scenarios.
According to the executive summary of the December 2018 report, APTIM “used the storm characteristics of Hurricane Isabel such as wave heights, wave period, water level, and duration to drive the [SBEACH] model.” The vulnerability assessment, therefore, focused on “potential damage associated with” an Isabel-like hurricane.
APTIM basically asked: How much sand would we have to place on the Southern Shores oceanfront after a Hurricane Isabel-like event in order to restore the beaches to their sand volume before the powerful hurricane? It is that amount that determines the target cubic yards per linear foot.
The coastal-engineering firm also conducted a physical assessment of the Southern Shores beach in February 2018. (See The Beacon’s description of the original 2018 report and the Town Council’s response to it at a planning workshop, 2/28/19.)
Updates by APTIM in its beach management plan led to the firm dropping option two and recommending new options four and five, which you will find as “additional options” presented in its report at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/APTIM_Beach-Update_to-Southern-Shores_2020_01_21.pdf.
APTIM’s January 2020 update was performed at the request of a Town Council majority that wanted to include areas of the beach (particularly Seventh Avenue) that were not included in the coastal engineering firm’s first three recommended options because they were not determined to be lacking in sand volume.
See pages 29 and 30 of the update for a numerical comparison of the four options. Only four and five cover the entire coastline.
We believe CPE-NC’s methodology, results, calculations, etc., over the past two-plus years of study of the Southern Shores coastline should be summarized in a report for the public, and all that the firm has done and recommended should be subject to outside expert scrutiny and analysis.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/18/20