Pine Knoll Shores — The Carteret County Beach Commission voted unanimously Monday to “pre-approve” the release of up to $15 million in county and state funds to pay most or all of the cost for a major beach nourishment project that could take place this winter in eastern Emerald Isle, Indian Beach and Salter Path.
The panel, which met at Pine Knoll Shores town hall, acted after hearing a detailed explanation from its secretary and adviser, Carteret County Shore Protection Office Manager Greg Rudolph.
Mr. Rudolph told the board that Pine Knoll Shores has definitely been eliminated from the project this year, reducing the cost from $28 million to about $16.8 million, and reducing the length of the project from about 9.5 linear miles to 5.4.
Pine Knoll Shores is to be included in what is called a Delta project – using sand dredged from the Morehead City Port harbor – next year, along with western Atlantic Beach.
That will provide more sand at a lower cost, Mr. Rudolph said, because the federal government is involved in the harbor dredging through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
However, Mr. Rudolph added Monday, it’s also possible the entire Bogue Banks project could be delayed until the winter and spring of 2019-20 if the private contractor bids for the work come back lower for next year than this year.
In that case, the major project and Delta project could be done the same year.
At any rate, he and Pine Knoll Shores Town Manager Brian Kramer, who was in the audience at the meeting, agreed it would benefit Pine Knoll Shores to wait until next year, even if the rest of the Bogue Banks project moves forward this winter.
“I want to thank the (beach) commission” for making the Delta project a possibility, Mr. Kramer said. “It took a year to get it done, but it’s in our long-term best interest.”
Some beach commission members, however, had questions about the project in general, noting that none of the 122 1,000-foot-long survey transects of beach along Bogue Banks have eroded to the point where they have reached the “trigger points” for nourishment under the county’s 50-year beach management plan.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get people asking me if this is just for aesthetics,” said member Doug Guthrie of Salter Path. “They also want to know, if we do this this year, then we have a hurricane, are we going to be able to get sand to fix the beach again.”
Mr. Rudolph said under the county’s master plan, nourishment is supposed to “maintain” the beach according to those trigger points, but it’s best not to reach the trigger points before a project takes place.
In essence, he said, it takes a long time to plan and get a project permitted, and if trigger points are reached or exceeded before nourishment, a hurricane would do even more damage.
The feds, he said, also have made it clear that maintaining the beach is a key to getting the money for sand to replace sand lost in storms.
The county’s plan includes pre-storm season beach measurements, so the county can and sometimes does do a post-storm measurement to determine how much sand has been lost.
In the past, Mr. Rudolph said, the feds have consistently provided money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for replacement of beach sand lost because of major storms.
In addition, beach commission member Jim Normile, an Emerald Isle town commissioner, noted that while the beach might look and measure moderately healthy, sand has been building up in the dunes, which are advancing seaward, while the recreational beach has been flattening and narrowing for several years, leaving less room for beach-goers, who are responsible for the brunt of the county’s tourist revenue. It’s particularly true, he said, of the far eastern end of Emerald Isle, where there are erosion hot spots that will get more sand than other areas in this project.
Commission chairman and Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper also said by acting at least somewhat before nourishment triggers are met, when a storm does come, the county and its residents are more likely to be just replacing sand, not losing oceanfront houses.
And, Mr. Cooper said, he often hears the opposite of what Mr. Guthrie hears – people are concerned about the narrowing of the recreational beach, even though there’s been storm protection added in the continually growing dunes. In beach tourism lingo, what’s been disappearing is called towel space, and business owners fret about it.
In essence, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Rudolph said, while the project will make the beach look better, it’s also needed.
“I’ll just tell people that Trace (Cooper) and Rudi (Rudolph) said it was not just for aesthetics,” said Mr. Guthrie, who went along with the rest of the board and voted to pre-approve release of the $15 million.
That includes $5 million from the state, about $8.9 million from the county’s beach nourishment reserve fund and the remainder from the towns involved.
Mr. Rudolph said the state money has been budgeted, but has not yet arrived. When it does, it will be placed in the county nourishment reserve fund – generated by the county’s room tax – for distribution to help pay for the project, whenever it occurs. If the money is not used this year, it will earn interest.
The county will release bids documents for the project within the next few weeks.
Pine Knoll Shores beaches were originally included in the nourishment plan this year, but the county had hoped to get $14 million from a newly approved state beach nourishment fund for the $28 million project.
The state only provided $5 million, one reason to delay the Pine Knoll Shores segment, according to officials.
In the meantime, the county has reached at least a tentative agreement with the ACE to place, for the first time ever, largely at federal expense, port harbor sand in west Atlantic Beach and all of Pine Knoll Shores.
The towns will have to pay some for that sand to be moved farther west than its usual distribution points in Fort Macon State Park and east Atlantic Beach, but those costs pale in comparison to the cost of nourishment projects without federal participation.
In addition, Mr. Cooper said, “It’s good to get one of these Delta projects under our belt,” per the recent agreement with the ACE.
Johnny Martin, an engineer with the county’s beach engineering firm Moffat & Nichol, agreed, and also noted that although the firm has estimated there’s enough sand nearby in the ocean to satisfy Bogue Banks’ nourishment needs under the county’s 50-year plan, it’s good to take advantage of port harbor sand when possible in order not to risk depleting that offshore ocean supply early.
Mr. Martin, along with Nicole VanderBeke, also of Moffat & Nichol, was at the meeting to give the beach commission the annual “state of the beach” report, based on surveys by Geodynamics LLC of Newport.
There was good news and bad news in the report. The bad news is that while the shoreline along most of Bogue Banks has “regressed landward” in the past year, there’s actually more sand in the system, between the dunes and an ocean depth of 12 feet below sea level.
That sand, Ms. VanderBeke explained, is likely to come back at some point and in the meantime, provides additional protection during storms because it reduces wave energy. The same, she said, holds true for the additional sand in the seaward expansion of the oceanfront dune system.
Ms. VanderBeke called the loss of sand from the actual beach and the increase in sand volume in the nearshore ocean “a pretty consistent offset” that “provides a cushion if we do have a storm this year.”
Mr. Guthrie asked if the additional nearshore sand, some of which undoubtedly came from previous nourishment projects, could have contributed to rip currents blamed for several drownings along Bogue Banks in recent summers, including two in Emerald Isle in recent months.
Mr. Rudolph said that was not the case, according to studies conducted in other places. Others at the meeting noted there were riptide and rough surf warnings along much of the Atlantic Coast this month, including places where there has been no beach nourishment.
Emerald Isle Town Manager Frank Rush, who was at the meeting, also noted the town had not noticed any increase in injuries to ocean-goers, something one would expect if the nearshore water profile was too high and causing problems.
Moffat & Nichol’s annual report also looked at Bear Island, in Onslow County across Bogue Inlet from Emerald Isle, and Shackleford Banks.
Analysis of the transects there, Ms. VanderBeke indicated, showed almost all bad news.
Bear Island eroded significantly along most of its length, as did Shackleford, particularly on the western ends of each island.
Shackleford Banks has become so eroded on the west end that two transects are well under water, and there’s no sign of the trend reversing.
The Bogue Banks survey, which will serve as the “pre-storm” measurement, took place between March 6 and March 23, while the Bear Island survey was May 1 and Shackleford was April 20-21.
Mr. Rush noted that the Bear Island survey came after some significant storms in April, which caused concern, while the Bogue Banks survey was before those storms.
Ms. VanderBeke agreed, and said it is possible some additional erosion not noted in the Bogue Banks survey in March took place during that time period.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.