Sand Management Part Of Beach Towns’ Health

By Jenny Callison, posted Sep 11, 2015
Sand, a seemingly inexhaustible commodity along the coast of North Carolina, is a fickle resource, continually shifted by wind and water.

“You can’t control sand, but you can manage it,” said Layton Bedsole Jr., New Hanover County’s shore protection coordinator.

Carolina Beach officials say their community is an example of successful sand management. Because of the peninsula’s significant erosion problems, it was the first community in the nation where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implemented its 50-year Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Program, said Carolina Beach town manager Michael Cramer. Through that program, approved for the town in 1962 and implemented in 1965, engineers determined that beach nourishment was the best way to address the erosion problems.

“Currently we place approximately 770,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach about every three years,” Cramer said.

“The reason the Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Program started here is because we had quite a few coastal storms that overwashed what little dunes we had,” Cramer continued, saying that, as part of the program, Carolina Beach established parameters for dune height and width. The dunes have since built up to those measures, and help block wave action, he said.

Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach have added more sand to their beaches than any other location in the region, according to a database created by Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, which looks at nourishment projects over the past 25 years.

The program’s figures show that Carolina Beach has added just over 18 million cubic yards of sand at a cost – in 2014 dollars – of $78.6 million. Wrightsville Beach has added a total volume of nearly 15.3 million cubic yards of sand for a cost –again in 2014 dollars – of $67.6 million.

Spreading the total costs over the number of times each beach has been replenished with sand roughly yields an average project cost in 2014 dollars of about $2.7 million for Wrightsville Beach and about $2.6 million for Carolina Beach.

That’s a lot of sand and a lot of money, Bedsole said, but he points out that the return on investment is significant.

He referred to tourism spending figures in a N.C. Beach and Inlet Management Plan report published in 2011. The report shows that direct spending by visitors for beach recreation in 2008 – the most recent year quoted in the report – was nearly $49 million in Carolina Beach and more than $100 million in Wrightsville Beach. Bedsole believes that money spent on beach nourishment is a mere drop in the sand pail when one considers the economic benefits of keeping the beaches healthy.

Managing sand “drives our tourist industry,” Bedsole said, adding that good sand management also has prevented much damage to property from storms, minimizing the outlay of federal funds from FEMA.

The problem Carolina Beach faces is that the 50-year program expires this year, and, according to Cramer, there’s no sure replacement, despite the fact that the town has been working with state and federal legislators for the past 10 years to address shifting sands well into the future.

While, as the “first in” to the program back in the 1960s, Carolina Beach is the first community to see its program end, other communities will soon be in the same dilemma, according to Cramer.

He believes the federal Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 enables the town to have a three-year extension to study the costs and benefits of the [storm damage reduction] program to see if it could get a 15-year extension.

But, halfway into that three-year study period, the town has not gotten a commitment from the Corps of Engineers to fund the study.

If that is not forthcoming, Carolina Beach may have to go at it alone, with the county, Cramer said.
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