Taking the Beach Back: N. Topsail Beach Renourishment is Underway!

Taking the Beach Back: N. Topsail Beach Renourishment is Underway!
By Amy Baker
December 3, 2012

Savannah,the Dredge: Not Your Mother’s Vacuum Cleaner
In case you have not seen it yet, as of November 26, 2012, there is an enormous dredge drifting down the New River Inlet, siphoning some much needed sand onto the shore. This monster machine (pictured right) has the power to pump 25,000-35,000 yd3 of sand per day! It is a vacuum, but with quite a bit more suction power than your mom’s Shark®.

For perspective, consider this: the average dump truck can haul approximately 8 yd3 of sand in one load. Yes, you read that correctly—8 versus 25,000 plus! Were the sand brought in on dump trucks, it would take 3,750 loads per day on average to equal the amount the dredge can convey in the same amount of time.

For many Topsail residents, this means taking back their beach; it is the long awaited answer to their prayers, so to speak. No doubt, the thousands of families who vacation on Topsail Island each season will be glad to see wider beaches—where the kids can build sand castles and young and old alike can enjoy the feel of sand between their toes as they search for seashells.

Ask the Experts: What is Renourishment?
A resident of Topsail myself, I was curious to know more, so I decided to investigate by interviewing Thomas Payne, the renourishment project’s manager and VP of operations for Marinex Construction out of Charleston, SC. I was fortunate enough to speak with both Tom and his wife, Dr. Nicole Elko, who has a PhD in Coastal Geolgoy, and over 15 years experience with beach nourishment and erosion. (See their photo left.)

Dr. Elko explained the necessity for beach renourishment in simple terms. Barrier islands like ours are natural and very dynamic land forms that are always changing—especially those close to inlets. It seems that few people ponder this natural process until it collides with human development (i.e. homes and businesses—and the economies that depend on them). That is when the work that Mr. Payne and his company do becomes invaluable.

Man Versus Nature: Why does NTB Need Renourishing?
For residents who have lived on the shore of N. Topsail in recent years, this man versus nature conflict is an ever-present reality as is the obvious dire need for ongoing beach preservation and renourishment.

As evidenced by Treasure Realty’s on-line reviews, many vacationers who chose to stay on the north end this year were caught off guard by the extremely narrow or nonexistent beaches there during high tides. Many were debating whether they should return next year.

Without renourishment, all of Topsail Island’s residents (including plants and wildlife) are in serious danger. As the shoreline recedes, more shoreline will erode, which will severely limit habitation and could negatively impact local tourism.

Furthermore, as the April 2011 NC Beach Inlet and Management Plan(BIMP) Final Report suggests, “…maintaining inlet waterways at sufficient depths and widths to ensure navigability is important for maintaining ocean access for the commercial fishery.” Those who have dined on the delicious local seafood would likely concur!

In addition to helping Topsail maintain the local coastal economy, renourishment efforts provide storm protection, since they build up the shoreline to weather such storms with significantly less erosion.

Dr. Elko says, “When a hurricane comes through…, you want as much sand between you and mother nature as possible. You want the waves breaking on the sand bar and on the beach, not on your seawall and your property.”

These projects cultivate wide beaches with more gentle slopes, where children can play safely, sea turtles can nest more easily, and plants can grow hardily.

Environmental Impact
Now you may find yourself questioning the impact that this process could have on the marsh and ocean wildlife. You are not alone. According to Dr. Elko and Mr. Payne, obtaining permits for these projects takes years,since rigorous environmental reviews must be conducted to ensure that any potential negative effects are as minimal as possible.

Of course, CAMA (Coastal Area Management Act) personnel are involved as well to help ensure there is proper balance between economic development and environmental protection. Ultimately, this project will actually help foster an environment more conducive to our local plants and wildlife—especially the sea turtles.

The Tip of the Iceberg
Dr. Elko reminds us that “nourished beaches are like icebergs;” not everything is present on the surface. Oftentimes, the most significant part of the berg is hidden beneath the surface.

The same may be true for the renourished beaches of N. Topsail. They are engineered to allow the sand to move out to and build up sand bars quickly, providing a helpful barrier between the Atlantic and our “beach.” With that in mind, we can expect to see about 30 percent of the stockpiled sand wash out to build up those sand bars within the first 6-12 months of the project.

Perhaps it would be best to think of this project as a long term investment. Naturally, many responsible residents have questioned whether the financial cost incurred in renourishment is worthwhile.

Dr. Elko says that it helps to be mindful of the revenue generated by our beaches and the ICWW. We stand to benefit tremendously from this effort, which will help preserve and protect our coastline for us and for the thousands of families that vacation on Topsail annually.

For Your Safety
The public should be advised to carefully observe the warning signs posted near the construction sites on the beach. These signs will be positioned at a safe distance from the heavy equipment, so that interested onlookers can view the dredge and bulldozer work without interfering and without personal risk.

Anyone on the beach near the construction should pay attention and stay clear of the equipment. At times, certain areas of the beach will likely be unusable. Information on the  NTB website admonishes boaters to take caution in the inlet area surrounding the dredge and other related excavating equipment also.

“The Sound of Sand”
Project Manager, Thomas Payne, informed us that since this is a 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week operation, those on the northern tip of the island from the beach club to Bay Court should expect to hear construction noise night and day and on holidays from now through mid-January or perhaps into early February 2013, depending on which stretch of beach the crews are working during that time frame.

NTB Alderman and advocate for the renourishment project, Tom Leonard, likes to think of these noises affectionately as “the sound of sand,” which he compares to Camp Lejeune’s “sounds of freedom.” Personally, I like to think of the sounds of summer—when a wider beach will host thousands of families playing in the sand, laughing together, and making memories that will bring them back again and again to enjoy the “treasure” that is Topsail Island.

Updated 12-7-2012

Here is a short video of the project getting underway…

5 Replies to “Taking the Beach Back: N. Topsail Beach Renourishment is Underway!”

    1. Ms. Uhlman,

      Thanks for your kind feedback! I have really enjoyed watching the process and learning from the engineers and others involved in this effort. I think you will be impressed once you see what they are doing/have done to realign the channel and renourish our beach. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

      See you on the shore,

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