Dredging contractor Weeks Marine over-filled the Southern Shores beaches south of 4th Avenue with more sand than they needed, and, as a result, under-filled the beaches north of 4th Avenue, beach nourishment program manager and coastal engineer Ken Willson acknowledged at a public project update meeting today at the Pitts Center.
While Weeks Marine and Coastal Protection Engineering (CPE), Willson’s company, delivered the contractually agreed-upon 894,000 cubic yards of sand per linear foot to the Southern Shores oceanfront, that volume was not distributed as the Town expected it to be. Instead, too much sand was deposited on the southern beaches, leaving the northern beaches short of volume. (Locals who were shocked by the change in the beaches south of 4th Avenue have reason to be.)
The beaches north of 4th Avenue were to receive 22 cubic yards of sand per linear foot, Mr. Willson said in response to questions from an active audience that attended both in-person and on Zoom.
In fact, he admitted, those beaches only received 13 cubic yards of sand per linear foot—which were deposited over a three-day period, from Nov. 20-22. The speed with which the dredging occurred caused alarm among northern property owners, who posted comments on the social media site, Nextdoor. (See The Beacon, 11/28/22.)
Twenty-two cubic yards of sand per linear foot is still considerably less volume than what the southern beaches were to receive, even if Weeks Marine had not over-filled them. They were supposed to receive one-third the amount of sand as the beaches south of 4th Avenue, Mr. Willson said.
“By design,” he said, “the northern beaches were never going to get the same amount of sand” as the southern beaches because coastal engineering surveys over a period of several years repeatedly showed that the northern beaches were not vulnerable to storm damage nor were they in need of mitigation from long-term erosion.
The Southern Shores beachfill project was designed to 1) provide for a reasonable level of “storm damage reduction” to the coastline in the event that a potential storm comparable to Hurricane Isabel hit Southern Shores (this level was determined by computer analysis) and 2) to reduce long-term erosion, which is a problem for only certain sections of the oceanfront, as The Beacon has previously documented.
The only reason the oceanfront north of 4th Avenue was included in the beach nourishment project was to create a “sufficient useable beach” in that area. This design goal was added to the project after homeowners on Seventh Avenue complained about their narrow beach, especially at high tide. In December 2020, the Town Council unanimously approved adding to the other two beachfill design goals the maintenance of a “healthy beach that provides sufficient useable beach and supports shorebird and sea turtle nesting habitat.”
CPE defined a sufficient useable beach as one that is 84 feet wide, as measured from “the wet-dry line to the toe of the dune,” Mr. Willson recalled today. The coastal engineer claimed that the beaches north of 4th Avenue currently do in fact have a width of 84 feet, even though they did not receive the sand volume that the construction design called for.
So, what happened? Why did the southern beaches receive so much of the sand that was to be deposited in the north?
According to Mr. Willson, a “significant discrepancy” occurred between a survey of the beach that was performed in May 2021 for design purposes and an August 2022 survey of the beach that was performed before construction began. Conditions of the beach changed, as they so often do. The volume of sand in the system increased: The beach accreted, gaining 180,000 cubic yards per linear foot naturally.
But the project design did not change to accommodate this “discrepancy.” No adjustments were made. Weeks Marine operated with a “template”— as Mr. Willson called it—for construction that was appropriate for the 2021 beach, but not for the August 2022 beach. In essence, it piled the sand on.
Whose fault is that? We leave that question to Weeks Marine and CPE to sort out and then for the Town to explain to residents. As Mr. Willson explained, the construction contract provides for an adjustment in the template, based on a change in conditions, provided Weeks gives CPE the requisite notice. A Weeks Marine employee who attended today’s meeting said the contractor had attempted notification, but clearly there was a disconnect between the parties.
CPE is “in discussions” with Weeks Marine about how to address the shortfall in the northern beaches.
So where does the Town stand in all of this?
Town Manager Cliff Ogburn did not speak publicly today, but he did speak with The Beacon after the meeting about the issuance of a statement to residents tomorrow. He also said the Town Council will be discussing the problems that arose with the beach nourishment project, starting at next Tuesday’s meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
Mayor Pro Tem Matt Neal, who is a local builder, attended today’s meeting and asked Mr. Willson for copies of the 2021 and 2022 beach surveys. The only other Town Council member in attendance was Paula Sherlock, who appeared by Zoom.
Mr. Willson said that Weeks Marine and CPE should have a resolution regarding the northern beaches “within a couple of weeks.”
According to Mr. Willson, the first day of sand pumping in Southern Shores was Oct. 7; the last day was Nov. 22. The Beacon regrets that we said on Nextdoor that the pumping had started in September, which was the original plan. The photograph at top is of equipment at the Trout Run access on Sept. 17. Storms apparently delayed the start of the dredging for three weeks.
We have been writing about beach nourishment for about four years now and are ready to turn over further explanations and disclosures to the Town.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/30/22