Pack away the ear plugs and walk a little farther. Beach replenishment is just about done on the southern Delaware coast. By widening the beach and raising the sand dunes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Philadelphia District hopes to protect the coastal area infrastructure, homes and businesses, and with them, the local economy.
“Considering the project was done with summer in full swing, with thousands of people on the beach as work was being done, problems and concerns were few and quickly dealt with,” said Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet. “The USACE and the contractors … have an incredible amount of experience and do their best to make sure these projects are completed as quickly as possible and without issue.”
The Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company of Oak Brook, Ill., once again was hired for the 2018 Bethany/South Bethany and Fenwick Island Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects, costing $19,284,320 — all paid for with federal funding.
Minor work continues
Some heavy equipment still lingered on the beach this week as crews completed their final surveys and punch-list items.
“Pebbles and broken shells are eventually going to sift down, and we’ll have our nicer sand again,” said South Bethany Town Manager Maureen Harman.
Other finishing touches will be completed by Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC). For instance, some beach crossovers have a hard-packed soil that makes for a sturdier walking surface. But it becomes slippery, so Hartman said DNREC plans to lay fresh sand on top.
Bethany and South Bethany are also addressing a few small gaps in the otherwise protective dune, which they want to fix before a major storm rips it open.
“In terms of sand fencing and dune crossovers, that work is ongoing now as part of our contract and is expected to be complete by Sept. 9,” said Steve Rochette, USACE spokesperson. “Dune-grass planting takes place after the first frost, in accordance with best practices, and will be done [in winter] by April of 2019.”
There will be a fertilizer application in June or July 2019, he said.
In Bethany, “99 percent of the dune fence work is complete. There is an area north of Oceanview Parkway that wasn’t included in the project for replenishment, and the Town is working with the some of the Corps’ vendors to have dune fence placed on the Town’s northern beach,” Graviet said.
This summer, for 24 hours a day, ships dredged sand from approved offshore “borrow areas” and piped it onto the beach. The sand is chosen based on similarity in grain and proximity to the shore (in this case, within three miles, in state waters).
The sand is then shaped into a dune and berm template designed to reduce potential storm damage.
While they appreciated the replenished beach and the full federal funding of the 2018 renourishment projects, coastal towns had hoped that Delaware wouldn’t once again be subject to a summertime construction schedule. They were frustrated in that respect.
Since the 1,000-foot rolling beach closures were weather-dependent, towns, landlords, rental agents and businesses couldn’t predict with certainty when the moving construction site would pass their neighborhood. Although towns made adjustments, some visitors were severely disappointed.
Work zones traveled south down the beach, starting around Memorial Day in Bethany Beach, July 5 in South Bethany and July 27 in Fenwick Island.
The biggest complaint was timing. Dredging equipment is in high demand, so the towns, state and Corps are at the mercy of the dredging company’s calendar.
“But once it arrived, they made good progress and, certainly, the project is designed to reduce the risk of damage to infrastructure,” Rochette said.
“It’s great to have the wide protective beach and formidable dune back in place as we approach another hurricane season,” Graviet said.
Towns grateful for help, glad it’s over
Someday, every local town council knows, the state and federal governments could ask towns to help pay for renourishment. But that wasn’t this year.
In South Bethany, Hartman said the project went smoothly overall. Contractors addressed the tough questions, and Town Hall posted daily project updates for the public.
There were complaints, Hartman said, but, “For the most part, everybody was very good about this ordeal.”
In South Bethany and most of Bethany Beach, the accessibility-enhancing Mobi-Mats were not immediately returned to the dunes to help people cross the sand.
“We were still advised not to put them out because there’s still a lot of heavy equipment going up the beach,” which could tear the mats, Hartman said, while Graviet said the hard surface of the freshly-constructed dune crossings doesn’t hold the mats in place well, so they hold off on returning the mats until it breaks down into a more sand-like texture.
Fenwick beaches were already in better shape that its neighbors’ shorelines, so the dunes hardly needed rebuilding, Tieman said. That meant Mobi-Mats could stay on the ground, for ease of access.
“Things went very well. We got really good quality sand,” said Fenwick Island Town Manager Terry Tieman. “They were in and out of here very quickly.”
But Fenwick this week was still waiting for its ADA-accessible dune crossover to be completed.
Otherwise, “Come enjoy the beach!” Tieman said. “It’s great! We’re ready! Thankfully, I consider it a non-event. It was really great. They handled it perfectly, without too much disruption. I know it did cause disruption, but [not] significant…”
The Bethany/South Bethany project was first constructed in 2008 with a 150-foot berm backed by a dune at an elevation of 16 feet (North American Vertical Datum). This year’s renourishment required 659,000 cubic yards of sand in Bethany and 500,000 cubic yards in South Bethany.
The Fenwick Island project was first constructed in 2005 with a 200-foot berm and 17.7-foot dune (NAVD), and this year required 278,000 cubic yards of sand.
Delaware is several cycles into a 50-year maintenance plan, in which the Army Corps replenishes the beach every three years, pending Congressional approval and funding each time.
The Philadelphia District is also overseeing renourishment projects in New Jersey.
By Laura Walter