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Update on beach projects
A lot is going on at the beach, and we want to share information about what the Town is doing to preserve our beach for residents, visitors, and wildlife.
FEMA Emergency Dune Project – following Hurricane Matthew (Oct. 2016)
- After Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, the Town worked with FEMA on a project to restore some of the dunes lost in the storm. The project began in the spring of 2017 and was halted during turtle nesting season. The project resumed in November 2017 and was completed in early March 2018.
- The project was a truck haul project where the sand was taken from an area off Long Beach Road. The sand source was approved by the Division of Coastal Management (DCM) for grain size (there is no official standard for color). In January of this year, staff with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) expressed concern over the color of the sand. The contractor ultimately was directed to move to a different location in the borrow area to finish the project. The dune project was constructed along approximately 4.4 miles of the Town’s approximately 9 miles of total oceanfront shoreline.
- After the project was completed, staff with USFWS and NCWRC again expressed concern with the color of the sand as it could possibly affect the incubation temperature of turtle nests which could in turn potentially affect the hatchling success and/or gender of the turtles within the nests.
- To address this concern, the Town is partnering with USFWS and NCWRC to monitor the color and temperature of the sand where the project was completed as well as areas outside the project area. The Town will install equipment to measure the temperature and transmit the data via Bluetooth technology for evaluation. The equipment will be installed at ten (10) locations within the project area. Three (3) additional sites outside the project area will also be chosen as control sites. The control sites will be located in areas not expected to be disturbed throughout the nesting season. The Town has also agreed to relocate turtle nests that are laid in the project area to minimize any potential effects.
- The dune was built to certain slopes and elevations to provide protection to Town infrastructure. This also necessitated including public access points in the areas of construction so that these normally lower areas would not allow water to flow behind the dunes and further compromise them.
- As high tides and waves continue to damage the dunes, the Town has been working to eliminate escarpment (drop offs) to make it easier for people to access the beach and to ensure that turtles can reach a suitable spot for laying eggs. The Town had to seek permission from DCM, USFWS and NCWRC to use heavy equipment on the beach after May 1. The Town and turtle patrol volunteers are working together to address the existing escarpments prior to May 15th. The turtle patrol volunteers check the beach each morning for nesting activity and notify the Town when an area is clear of turtle nests. Any nests found are relocated to designated areas approved by USFWS and NCWRC prior to the Town beginning the escarpment leveling. After May 15, the Town will need additional permission from USFWS and NCWRC to address escarpments during the remainder of turtle nesting season (May 1 to Nov. 1).
Wilmington Harbor Project:
- The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will once again dredge the channel to the port in Wilmington. Oak Island and Caswell Beach are on a rotation schedule with Bald Head Island for receiving the beach-compatible sand dredged from the channel. The USACE project would have placed sand on Caswell Beach and stopped at the Town of Oak Island’s east end near SE 77th The Town added $3 million to the USACE project, so now sand will be placed up to SE 58th Street. The USACE could not place sand further west than SE 58th Street due to permitting and other project limitations.
- Although this may not be where the sand is most needed, since the Town is tying into a USACE project, the cost of the sand will be much lower than any other project the Town could do alone. The Town decided that it shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to add protection to any section of our beach.
- This project is expected to start in late May/early June and take 3-4 months to complete.
- The USACE has permission to place sand on the beach during turtle nesting season, which is also tourist season. However, the USACE must also monitor for turtle nests along the entire length of this project as well. Any nest found in a current or future construction area must be relocated in accordance with USFWS and NCWRC requirements.
- The Town has had an active turtle monitoring program since the Sea Turtle Habitat Restoration Project (in 2000/2001). Volunteers patrol the beach every day during turtle nesting season, logging nests and moving them if necessary. During this project, the Town will pay for the monitoring within Town limits (out of the $3 million given to the Corps for sand) to help ensure that turtle nests are relocated as needed.
Lockwood Folly Inlet Initiatives
- The Town is continuing to pursue acquiring its own permits to dredge Lockwood Folly inlet to currently authorized dimensions.
- The Town is also pursuing cost-sharing for future USACE maintenance projects for Lockwood Folly inlet to place material in the nearshore areas experiencing erosion at the West End.
- Lastly, the Town has also reached out to the USACE to participate in the upcoming USACE AIWW crossing project (expected to occur this fall) to investigate placement of dredged material along the West End erosional hotspot.
Sea Turtle Habitat Restoration Project
- This project was originally done after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Since that time, sea turtles have continuously returned to Oak Island’s beaches to lay their eggs, even though the beach has been experiencing erosion.
- Restoring the beach in this area (approximately 63rd East to 10th East) is also a FEMA reimbursement project ($8 million).
- We were unable to tie this project into the Wilmington Harbor project and our engineers (Moffatt & Nichol) are working on plans, sand sourcing, etc. to provide sand to this area by the winter of 2019/2020. Depending on project timing, we may try to increase the scope of this project to place additional material along other western stretches of the beach.
General Beach Nourishment
- Our engineers are also working on a plan to nourish and maintain the entire length of beach. Environmental studies, sand sourcing and permitting will take a number of years. Hopefully the projects we’re doing in the meantime will reduce the scale of this larger project.
- While we can say that the cost for this project will be shared among all Town property owners, we do not have a firm figure for the total cost of the project (other than a cap at $40 million) or which financing method will be used.