The Buxton Beach Nourishment project is back in swing with a second hopper dredge that can handle tougher conditions, but some homeowners are concerned about the ability to finish the 2.9 mile project before the mid-December contract deadline.
A public meeting on the project is held every Wednesday at the Fessenden Center Annex Building in Buxton at 11 a.m., and frustration was evident among a number of homeowners who have been attending meetings regularly, and watching the project closely.
“…We’re worried about the progress of the project. From starting a month late, to the multiple weather delays – it’s very concerning,” said Christie Roberson, who owns a home in the special Buxton tax district that was developed to help fund beach nourishment, and who worked on a successful beach nourishment project in Atlantic Beach as a councilwoman. “This is an emergency situation and it has been going on for years. And it’s becoming a hardship for the community, as well as a safety issue.”
The project was originally scheduled to be finished by August 15 and that deadline has been moved to December 15, which coincides with the end date of the contract. After December 15, the contractor Weeks Marine will be fined $10,000 per day for every day that the project is not complete.
There was no dredging in September due to four named storms that affected the North Carolina coastline. The dredge that was being used for the project, the cutterhead dredge C.R. McCaskill, is unable to work in rough conditions and needs to be moved to the closest safe harbor when waves are over 10 feet.
To address potential delays, a second dredge has been enlisted to help with the project, the hopper dredge R.N. Weeks.
“The hopper dredge has a little bit higher tolerance [to wave height] than the other dredge does,” said CSE Senior Coastal Engineer Haiqing Liu Kaczkowski in a recent interview. “It will also help to increase the production rate. It will be twice as fast as having only one dredge.”
The hopper dredge R.N. Weeks started pumping sand at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday from the second landing point or subline that is located roughly one mile north of Buxton. Pumping will proceed south to tie in with the section of beach that was completed by the C.R. McCaskill in August.
But as of Friday morning, the R.N. Weeks was shut down due to an unexpected hydraulic problem. If the problem cannot be fixed on site, the dredge has to be shuttled to Norfolk for repair. Assuming the problem isn’t complicated, the R.N. Weeks is scheduled to return to the area early next week. Meanwhile, the C.R. McCaskilll will remain on the jobsite, but will have to cease operations this weekend due to forecasted rough weather, and is expected to resume pumping on Sunday.
The unusual weather has certainly altered the original estimated timeframe.
It’s not typical for Hatteras Island to be affected by hurricanes for an entire month, and the summertime weather was abnormal as well.
“Historic wave data for offshore Buxton show the average wave heights are above 5 feet from September to April, and this summer Buxton experienced higher-than-normal wave conditions,” said Kaczkowski.
However, the math for the remainder of the project has raised questions for homeowners and stakeholders in the nourishment project.
As of September 1, the contractor had pumped 36% of the project volume, which is the target measurement for the project’s completion. In terms of area covered, roughly 20% of the 2.94 mile stretch of beach has been completed.
It is estimated that about 30 days of pumping is left to complete the project with both dredges working, according to Kaczkowski, and there are 63 days left until December 15.
It’s not clear what will happen once the contract end date of December 15 is reached. “Weeks Marine reported that they have been investigating possible plans if they can’t finish by December 15,” said Kaczkowski.
It’s also not clear yet if the project will be able to be completed by December 15, but the answer is on the horizon.
“At this point, we don’t know [if it will be completed by December], but in a couple weeks we should have a better idea,” said Kaczkowski. “Both dredges are on site and we are waiting for the production rates. When both dredges are working, we should see some much higher production rates.”
It’s essentially a waiting game to see if the weather can cooperate for the next couple of months.
“We’re being told that they can finish the project,” said Dare County Commissioner Danny Couch. “They certainly appear to know what they’re doing, and I understand that they’re not going to compromise anyone’s safety.”
“Everybody is frustrated, but beach nourishment is a commitment, and as long as beach nourishment is on the table with Dare County, that commitment must be maintained. We have to answer to the public,” said Couch.
“Beach nourishment’s value is time tested, and it has taken time for it to be supported by the Outer Banks community. We know it has merit, and no one wants to see the beach nourishment program compromised,” he added. “I know they have the capability and equipment to get it done, and I hope the community and the county will do our part in seeing it through.”
“They have a little more than 60 days left to complete the project,” said Bob Woodward, Chairman of the Dare County Commissioners at a recent update meeting. “They know what they’re facing and what they’re up against. They know that there’s a $10,000 fine per day, and that we’re not going to let them off the hook.”
There have been noticeable advancements with one of the primary reasons for the project – the accessibility of N.C. Highway 12 on the northern edge of Buxton during storms.
“The project priority is to ensure the transportation corridor at the motels is passable so we can all lead daily lives without too much interruption,” said Couch. “To that end, [the project] certainly seems successful.”
A clearer picture of progress will hopefully take shape in the next several weeks. The addition of the hopper dredge – especially considering the higher swells that traditionally accompany the arrival of fall – is a welcome sight for many people involved.
Nevertheless, it remains a waiting game for many homeowners who are patiently watching from the sidelines, as they have been for months.
“We’re holding our breath, and we’ll be ecstatic when things begin to change,” said Roberson. “The ocean is at our pilings with every high tide.”
“Everything here centers around the ocean. Providing an accessible safe beach is vital to our peace and happiness.”