Dare County’s planned beach nourishment project in north Buxton moved along quickly, making news headlines during March, and you can expect even more news in April — especially next week.
On Monday, April 4, at 10 a.m., the Dare County Board of Commissioners will have a public hearing in the commissioners’ meeting room at the Dare County Administrative Building in Manteo, to determine whether the owners of 34 oceanfront parcels of land in the nourishment area should help pay for the project.
The report outlines the need for the service district and includes a statement that the district meets the standards set by law.
Dare County proposes to nourish 2.9 miles of beach from approximately the Canadian Hole to the old site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with 2.6 million cubic yards of sand from an offshore borrow pit. The reason for the nourishment project is to protect Highway 12 from destructive storm surges.
According to the report, the estimated total cost of the project is $25 million or $9.62 per cubic yard of sand. The project, the report says, will be funded by a combination of the county’s beach nourishment fund and from revenues generated from a county service district made up of all oceanfront properties in the project area.
The commissioners will hear from the public at the hearing and will then have several choices for further action, according to county manager Bobby Outten.
They can take no action, they can pass a resolution to adopt the service district as proposed, or they can make changes to what has been proposed. For instance, the board members could propose adding more properties near, but not on the oceanfront, to the service district, as they have discussed previously.
Any changes to the proposal, Outten said, would require another report, map, and public hearing with four weeks notice.
If the commissioners approve the service district, they would not set a tax rate at the same time. That will come later during the budget process. The board must adopt a budget for the next fiscal year by June 30.
Outten has told the commissioners that 7.82 cents per $100 of property value is about the average tax that property owners in Nags Head and the other towns have paid for nourishment.
If the board decides to levy an 8-cent rate in the Buxton special tax district, the total that Buxton oceanfront property owners would contribute would be slightly more than $13,000 of the total bill.
However small the contribution, the majority of the commissioners have said they view the establishment of the district as a matter of fairness. The vote to establish a proposed district was 7-2 with Commissioners Warren Judge and Allen Burrus voting against.
It will certainly be interesting to see how many, if any, citizens step up to make public comment at Monday’s meeting and what they have to say about the proposal.
The other big event next week is opening bids for the nourishment project, which is expected to happen at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 7, in Manteo.
All of the permits for the project came through during March — including the two biggies, a special use permit from the National Park Service and a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The county had a mandatory pre-bid conference for contractors on the project on Thursday, March 24, in Manteo, followed by a site visit to Buxton.
Outten said four companies attended the meeting.
The request for bids stipulates that the work “to the extent practicable” be conducted during the fair weather months. The county’s contractor to plan and oversee the project, Coastal Science& Engineering, says that nourishing the beaches in the storm-prone winter months is both too costly and dangerous.
To that end, the county is requesting two bids. Bid A would requires all work to be accomplished in 2016 between May 1 and Dec. 15. Bid B requires all work to be done in 2017 by Dec. 15.
Dare County manager Bobby Outten said again this week that the county remains “cautiously optimistic” that the project can be completed as planned this year. He added several companies at the meeting asked questions about dredging in 2016, which might be a good sign.
Outten has also noted that Tim Kana of Coastal Science & Engineering, the county’s contractor, has been told that the companies that do these projects will not have a hopper dredge available this summer, but several have said they may have a cutterhead dredge available.
Because of the location of the borrow area for the Buxton project, the work can be done by a cutterhead dredge, which is different than the situation in the three Dare County towns with planned nourishment projects.
The towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills had also planned nourishment projects for this summer, but have had to delay them until next year because of the shortage of hopper dredges. The location of the borrow area for the towns’ projects prohibits the use of a cutterhead dredge.
Outten said that after the bids are opened, they will be “vetted” by engineers for the contractor to make sure they meet the bid requirement. He said that process could take a day or so.
If any of the bids meet the requirements and are within budget, the commissioners can decide to award a contract, which then requires the approval of the state’s Local Government Commission.
If none of the bids meets the requirements, Outten said the county could still have time to rebid the projects, which is what happened with the projects in the towns. The first round of bids came in significantly over budget. The projects were immediately put out for bid a second time and a bid came in almost $5 million under budget — but the work will not be done until next year.
Outten said the county has had “unprecedented cooperation” from the National Park Service, the Corps, and other state and federal agencies to get the Buxton project this far, this quickly — ready for starting in 2016.
“It would be so disappointing,” he said, “if we can’t get it done.”
LOOKING BACK AT THE 1973 BUXTON PROJECT
While the county’s proposal has been so much in the news this month, a reader — Joe Bough of Delaware — sent The Island Free Press a copy of a report prepared by Coastal Research Associates of Charlottesville, Va., on the last nourishment project that was done in Buxton 40-plus years ago.
That report was published in February 1974 on the nourishment project that was completed in 1973 by the National Park Service.
That was back in the day that the Park Service nourished beaches and the federal government paid for it.
According to the engineers who wrote the report, prior to the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 — which cut an inlet between Avon and Buxton ? the Park Service had focused on maintaining the barrier dune system, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
After the storm, the Park Service began focusing on specific beach erosion sites, and one of them was in north Buxton, where erosion threatened the U.S. Coast Guard Loran station, the old U.S. Navy Base, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Light Station buildings, and several private homes and businesses.
In 1966, the Park Service contracted to have 312,000 cubic yards of sand placed along the Buxton area beaches of most concern. The sand was taken from borrow material in a sound-side tidal delta formed by the Ash Wednesday storm. But the sand was apparently too fine and the quantity too small to have any significant impact on the beaches.
In 1969, the U.S. Navy contracted to have three groins constructed in the eroded area. Hardened structures, such as the groins, are now prohibited by state law and frowned upon by Park Service policy. The remains of the groins can still be seen on the oceanfront, but they haven’t been repaired in decades.
The Coastal Research Associates engineers said that the groins did offer protection for the Navy base and the Lighthouse, but the areas to the north and south continued to erode at a rate equal to or greater than before.
Erosion continued to worsen with storms, and yet another nourishment projected was planned for 1971. This one was reportedly more effective than the 1966 attempt, but there was still not enough sand pumped to have an impact.
Finally, the authors of the report said, the NPS planned a large-scale project for 1973. This time, 1.3 million cubic yards of material was pumped onto the north Buxton beaches.
And the borrow pit for the project was the beach at Cape Point — which seems just about unbelievable with today’s park management policies.
The sand was piped some 4 miles north to the Buxton beaches, and the result was a large deep pond — the Salt Pond — the remains of which still exist today at the area of Cape Point. Today, though, the area is covered by new dunes and vegetation and the pond is less noticeable than it was during the ’80s and ’90s.
Back then, the area was a large sand flat, all around the pond and between the pond and Cape Point. It often overwashed in storms and high tides. However, the deep pond was a popular place for families to gather, kids to swim, and windsurfers to sail. The area was eventually closed to vehicles, which is part of what has led to the change in the topography in the area.
In the decade or so after the 1973 project, Park Service policy toward beach nourishment changed. The agency began to favor “letting nature take its course” on park properties, and there were no more nourishment projects at the seashore.
In a letter to Dare County’s manager in June 2014, Stan Austin, Southeast Regional Director of the NPS in Atlanta, wrote that “Beach nourishment for the purpose of protecting property is generally not allowed” by the Park Service policies.
The policies, he noted, “require the preservation of natural processes, including erosion, overwash, deposition, inlet formation, and shoreline migration.” Where processes are natural, he explained, beach nourishment would require a waiver from the policies.
“However,” he wrote, “where natural processes have been altered by human activities or structures, the Policies direct the National Park Service to investigate alternatives for mitigating the effects of those activities or structures and for restoring natural conditions.”
He said that the long history of maintaining Highway 12 — pushing overwashed sand back up into dunes — has “most likely altered natural processes” along the seashore.
“Therefore,” he concluded, “consistent with the Policies, we are open to engaging with Dare County to evaluate whether beach nourishment to mitigate the effects of these activities is appropriate at this particular location”
The special use permit — which the county received in March — Austin noted would be a “one-time” exception and would not signal a change in policy. The county asked for and received the permit to protect Highway 12, not the protection of private property.
It surprised some that the Park Service so readily agreed to consider the county’s request and that the permitting process was also accelerated by not only NPS but other federal and state agencies.
I think some readers might find the 1973 report on the last Buxton beach nourishment project interesting to look at. It’s only 46 pages long and has many illustrations and photographs. Here is the link. http://www.islandfreepress.org/2016Archives/04.01.2016-BlogDOLAN1.pdf
FOR MORE INFORMATION
***Due to technical difficulties links below may need to be copied and pasted into your browser to read.
Too much sand here, not enough sand there: Part II
Commissioners set public hearing on Buxton tax district for April 4
Dare County Buxton Beach Nourishment Project Report and Notice of Public Hearing. http://www.darenc.com/news/2016/id_868.pdf
Buxton nourishment project has all permits and is out for bids