The Nags Head Beach Nourishment Project - My View
There has been much talk from both sides of the issue about the success or early failure of the $36 million Nags Head beach nourishment project. Naysayers have quickly pointed to a 25% loss of visible sand as proof positive that the project will fail, while the town's engineer counters with, "it's exactly what we expected".
My opinion is that the naysayers are a little too quick to claim victory and the engineer is blowing a little too much smoke on the project. Here's why.
When the Nags Head project was laid out by the town's officials and its hired engineer several years ago, the plan was to widen the visible beach anywhere from 75'-150' (more or less) along a ten mile stretch. Nothing was said about putting a 250 feet wide swath of high sand on the beach and watching it erode down to a 75'-150' beach. In fact, (in my opinion) no one thought the project would initially result in widening the beach by 250' in most places. I am willing to bet that when the dredging company began placing its pipeline on the Nags Head beach that they thought "this is the widest beach we have ever nourished, why are we here?" Here's why.
Most, if not all, east coast beaches have always been re-nourished during winter months when they are at their narrowest state. The Nags Head project was the first ever conducted during the summer months.
FACTS: (1) The winter of 2010 was one of the worst in many years along the Outer Banks for the number and days of northeast winds. More sand than usual was eroded from Corolla to Oregon Inlet. Most of it came back to the beach during the summer of 2010, as is normally the case.
(2) The winter of 2011 (believe it or not) turned out to be one of the mildest we have seen in years. There was less than a week of northeast winds the entire winter. As a result, the summer sand never left the beach and formed the outer bars as is customary along the Outer Banks. I repeat, the beaches STAYED WIDE all winter long.
(3) When the dredge company arrived to begin the project it was, essentially, getting ready to nourish a beach that, if left alone and nature didn't repeat itself, REALLY DIDN'T NEED NOURISHING. IT WAS WIDE AS IT EVER WAS and there was no significant outer bar off the beach.
(4) So, when the dredge company started pumping the 4.6 million cubic yards of sand on an already wide beach, the town ended up with 200-250+ width of beach and the sand was much higher than even the engineer expected (my opinion). So, if you like the looks of a nourished beach, it looked wonderful !
(5) Quickly, hurricane Irene came along, and with no outer bar along the beach (drop offs and deep water was a big complaint from tourist all summer) it was obvious that even the soundside storm would kick up the ocean enough to erode much of the "high beach" away.
(6) Having to defend this event, the town officals, backed by the town engineer, told us "we fully expected this to happen." Well, I think they are correct, but correct only after hindsight. "most of the sand is still out there protecting the beach," they said.
The winter of 2012 (the coming winter) is starting out much like the winter of 2010 and time will tell if the Nags Head beach project was worth $36 million, and, most importantly, for whom was it worth $36 million. My early impression is that the sand placed in south Nags Head, especially south of Junco Street will disappear first and faster than the town would like. That area, in my opinion, is begging for ocean overwash all the way across Old Oregon Inlet Road and into the marsh, and its going to happen one day soon.
The area immediately north of Jennette's Pier, which has consistantly blow out for the past ten years will also lose sand quicker than the town would like. The old Epstein and Historic District area never really needed nourishing and will probably fair better.
There will be good winters and bad winters ahead for the Nags Head beaches. But when all arguments are made, a 15 foot wave from a hurricane or weeklong northeaster will care very little about 75-100 feet of sand along a ten mile stretch of beach. We will still be at the mercy of the ocean.
I am not yet ready to call the Nags Head beach nouishment project a dismal failure. As the town engineer (doctor) said, the beach still hasn't had time to recover from the operation. It will take some time and this winter and next winter will put it to the test, and it will be up to that new sand to see if it can stay in place. Tens year? No way. Five years? Don't think so. Two years? Maybe. $36 million again? Let's hope not.
|Nags Head @ Jennette's Pier @ high tide today|