Proposals aimed at extending window
for dredging and nourishment
By BRAD RICH
Coastal Review Online
of Coastal Management
will submit for public comment on Tuesday, Sept. 30, a series of
proposals to change the way inlets are managed, including expanding
the time “window” for dredging and beach renourishment into sea
turtle and bird nesting seasons.
idea is part of an overall inlet-management
by the division and its policy-making Coastal
and thus far has drawn relatively little public debate.
state policy requires projects that dredge inlets and renourish
beaches to be done in the winter, from Dec. 1 through March 31, to
minimize the effects on sea turtles and birds. Proponents say that
widening that window would reduce costs, but a host of state and
federal agencies are concerned and watching the process very
depends on how big of an expansion they propose and where it would
apply,” said Kathy Matthews of the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service
office in Raleigh. “It could have significant impacts on sea
turtles, shorebirds and wading birds. Right now, we recommend that
these activities don’t take place after March 31, and there are
good reasons for that.”
start appearing on the state’s beaches in greater number after that
date, she said. The service, she noted, is particularly worried about
species on the federal endangered species list, such as the piping
plover, which nests on beaches in the state. The red knot is another
species that uses the beach in warmer weather. The service has
proposed putting it on the list.
dredging and beach projects in April would be less of a problem for
nesting sea turtles, Matthews said. Turtles would be more
threatened by later projects, she said. The federally protected
animals nest along oceanfront beaches, usually starting in mid-May
and continuing through the summer and early fall.
Godfrey, who heads up the state’s turtle program at the N.C.
Wildlife Resources Commission,
agreed. Although the feds generally make the crucial recommendations
on whether the Army
Corps of Engineers
should issue the permits for dredging and re-nourishment projects, he
said, “We collaborate and consult and back up their decisions.
There is a potential for problems with turtles” in the spring.
of the chief proponents of changing the window is Greg “Rudi”
Rudolph, head of the Shore Protection Office for Carteret County.
obviously don’t want to do anything to harm turtles or birds, but
we think we can expand this window some without doing that,” he
said. “We already deal with endangered and threatened species in
projects, and we would just take additional steps to make sure that
dredging and nourishment activities (in an expanded window) wouldn’t
example, Rudolph said, observers watch for turtles during dredging
projects and a trawler intercepts any turtles that get too close to
the dredge. Expanding the window into a time of warmer water and more
turtles would require more monitoring and perhaps more interceptions,
Rudolph said, but it would be worth it economically.
renourishment project in Virginia Beach near the end of the summer
cost $5.50 a cubic yard of dredged sand, he explained. The Atlantic
Beach project last winter cost $12 a cubic yard, Rudolph noted. “You
can see that you’re talking about millions of dollars in savings,
per project,” he said.
conceded that there is some degree of mystery to costs. “It’s
kind of like gas prices at the pump,” he said. “There are a lot
of variables, and sometimes it’s hard to see why it goes up or
down. But one thing you can be sure of is that supply and demand play
a big role.”
companies do that kind of work, Rudolph explained, and the number of
projects is increasing. Forcing the work to be done in several winter
months guarantees higher costs, he said. Then, Rudolph said, you
have to factor in that fewer and fewer federal dollars are available
for dredging and re-nourishment. That means local governments –
with state aid – these days have to pick up more, if not all, of
said the current policy isn’t etched in stone, anyway. Projects can
and do get exceptions, he noted, and have to work with tougher
conditions, such as more monitors and area restrictions.
think the Coastal Resources Commission is sympathetic to the plight
of project sponsors and is going to work hard to find a workable
solution,” Rudolph said.
about an inlet-management plan began in December, when Frank Gorham,
the Coastal Resource Commission chairman, proposed the measure in
response to a study on redrawing regulatory boundaries at the mouth
of the Cape Fear River. Instead of examining that one site, the
commission directed staff members to conduct a management study for
all 12 of the state’s developed inlets. The Division of Coastal
Management held public hearings throughout the state, collecting
comments on potential inlet-management practices. Staff members
presented those comments to the commission in May. Commissioners
finally compiled a list of 10 priorities, including standards for
beach fill material, funding sources and dredging windows.
“Pete” Peterson, a researcher at the UNC
Institute of Marine Sciences
in Morehead City, like Rudolph, is a member of the commission’s
panel of scientific advisers. The Science Panel has not been asked to
discuss the idea of expanding the dredging and renourishment window.
Peterson has long been a strong advocate for very high standards for
beach renourishment after he studied the dramatic declines in
invertebrate populations – mole crabs, coquina clams and the like –
on beaches where extremely fine sand was used. He said the whole
concept of expanding the window is somewhat disingenuous.
what window?” he said. “It’s already been expanded about as
much as it can be,” at least informally, he said. “Every recent
project in Dare County has been outside the ‘window.’”
Sugg of the regulatory section at the Wilmington District Office of
the Army Corps of Engineers said there is some flexibility already,
and the Corps essentially “negotiates” between those who propose
projects and the agencies charged with the responsibility to protect
threatened and endangered turtles and birds.
Corps circulates permit applications to the environmental and
protection agencies, which offer comments. If the project raises
questions, the Corps consults with the applicant. The goal is to find
a project time, plan and protective measures that can satisfy
everyone, Sugg said.
example, he said, increased beach monitoring might address the issue,
with more observers required to look for nests and the markings in
the sand that indicate a turtle has come ashore to nest.
job is to try to strike a balance,” Sugg said. But he added that
the Corps and the other agencies generally are “comfortable” with
the current window.
obviously not proponents or opponents of any project or necessarily
of changing the window,” he said. “We look to the agencies for
major federal agency involved in turtle protection is the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s protected species section.
Dennis Klemm, sea turtle program coordinator for NOAA’s southeast
regional office in St. Petersburg, Fla., said the agency is working
on a new regional biological opinion for the issue. It would cover
everything from the North Carolina-Virginia border to Key West, Fla.
Hendren, a contract employee working on the project in Klemm’s
office, said it’s a very complicated issue that involves looking at
federally approved dredging and renourishment projects at more than
50 sites. Each of those has unique characteristics, based on
geography and the different threatened and endangered species known
to be there at different times. In some locations, for example, it’s
not just turtles that cause concern but whales.
have to look at a lot of different projects from a lot of different
angles,” he said. “It’s a large geographical area, with a wide
range of projects and a wide range of potential impacts. We’re
currently putting it together by project.”
the end, though, the regional biological opinion will be the primary
factor that guides the Corps’ decisions on permits.
said the goal is to have the new opinion finished by the end of the
year, but that delays are possible. He and Klemm both said the
discussion is an important one, an attempt to balance the critical
protection of the species with the states’ desires for more
flexibility in the timing of projects.
primary governing law is the federal Endangered
which prohibits killing or harassing listed animals and
prevents federal agencies from allowing actions that would harm the
animals or their habitats. While that appears to be pretty rigorous
protection, the reality is that various amendments over the years
have lessened the law’s effects. The Fish & Wildlife Service,
for instance, can issue “incidental take permits” if harming or
killing a species is merely incidental to an otherwise lawful
activity and if the permit applicant has devised an acceptable
habitat conservation plan. Almost all beach and dredging projects
receive such permits.
said that in the spring, especially, beach activities can also easily
run afoul of the less-discussed Migratory
Bird Treaty Act,
which affects the United States, Mexico, Canada and Russia. The act
makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export,
transport, sell, purchase or barter any migratory bird or the parts,
nests or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit
issued pursuant to federal regulations.
are more than 1,000 birds in the U.S. covered by the act, Matthews
said, “and we can’t even write a permit for a take. If a bird is
an endangered species, we can write a biological opinion and allow
some incidental takes. But if a bird covered under the MBTA is
impacted – say you crush some eggs or kill an adult or a chick –
there can be serious repercussions,” including fines of up to
a number of shorebirds in North Carolina are not endangered but are
covered by that law. Many are common in the spring and summer, such
as oystercatchers, ibises, terns and willets.
not really been involved in these discussions yet, but we will be,”
Matthews said. “This year, even within the existing window, we had
some problems with some projects. And if you allow more activities in
April and May, the potential is certainly there for more problems.”
Wood, a respected ornithologist, longtime staffer for Audubon North
Carolina and head of the Coastal Plain Conservation Group, based in
Hampstead, said he would be concerned about all of those birds if the
Matthews, he said the time before nesting actually begins is also
crucial for the birds as they are “scouting” potential sites and
beginning “breeding behavior,” activities designed to attract and
prepare for mates and mating. If these activities are disrupted or
discouraged, mating might not occur, there or elsewhere. And birds
are already under a lot of pressure because of shrinking habitat,
climate changes and changes in food supplies.
be particularly worried about the effects on the plovers, including
piping and Wilson’s, as well as red knots and oystercatchers and
ibises, even herons and egrets.
they’re talking about is expanding this window into what is already
a very challenging time of year for a lot of birds,” he said. “It
could have a big impact at certain times and in certain places.”
are also concerned about the potential impacts on fish. Matthews, for
example, noted that nourishment can bury the tiny coquina clams and
mole crabs that make up a big portion of the food supply for some
surf fish. Extending that potentially harmful activity later into
spring could have impacts on stocks.
in fact, said he and two other researchers, Lisa M. Manning, a
biologist with the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service Office of
Protected Resources in Silver Spring, Md., and Melanie J. Bishop of
Macquarie University in New South Wales, Australia, just published a
study that indicates April and May might just be the absolute worst
time to put dredged sand on beaches.
concluded that “beach nourishment projects utilizing fine sediments
from dredge spoil have significant negative ecological impacts. The
spring-time depositions of unnaturally fine sediments depressed
normally abundant invertebrate populations for the entire warm
season. After winter low abundances on disposal sites and control
beaches, the next annual disposal event acted again to suppress
warm-season … abundances, thereby generating a cumulative impact
from successive annual disposal events.”
this means, Peterson said, is that there was significantly less food
available for fish in the surf zone, especially Florida pompano, king
fish and sea mullet, but also, to a somewhat lesser extent, early
life-stage flounder and even drum.
he said in the report, the nourishment really didn’t do much good.
disappearance of virtually all the added volume of dredge spoils from
the beach within a year implies that any protection it provides
against storm damage dissipates rapidly,” the report states.
“Coastal resource management should compare benefits of beach
augmentation (i.e. helping to protect beachfront property against
storm damage), against the ecological costs of annually repeated
spoil disposals indefinitely suppressing invertebrate prey
of placing that material from maintenance dredging of navigation
channels on the sandy beach, the report suggests that the material
could be used elsewhere on barrier islands.
the total area of islands in major bays and sounds has diminished
greatly as sea levels have risen over the past few decades,” the
report states. “Fine sediments from maintenance dredging can be
used to elevate now inundated sections of those islands and restore
habitat for wetlands that can serve to expand limited roosting,
nesting and foraging areas of water birds and habitat for terrapins.”
of this, the report states, is happening as pressure mounts for more
and more beach nourishment.
rising sea levels and an increasing frequency of violent storms from
global climate change enhance risk of storm damage to oceanfront
property, public support for beach nourishment appears to be
growing,” the report states.
Coastal Resource Commission’s next meeting is set for Oct. 22-23 in
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