Thursday, April 30, 2015

NC North Topsail Beach, Topsail Island, Beach Renourishment

    Welcome back to Topsail Island - you can access yesterday's article by Clicking Here.

     We are spending today in North Topsail Beach, the northernmost community on the island

     The community is tidy and has its act together in many ways.  There are numerous spots for public beach access with large parking lots and walkways - all of it in great shape.

     Town manager Stuart Turille has only been here two years, but he is having a big positive impact on the community.

Stuart Turille

      "You have to view the beach as a community asset" says Stuart.  And, indeed it is that.  Tens of thousands of people come from many miles to take advantage of the beach, a crucial part of the local economy.  

     As we saw in Yesterday's Article, this entire island is slowly moving south, which means that the north end is where the erosion is occurring.  

     So upon his arrival here, Stuart started advocating measures to combat the erosion issues.  The current project underway that addresses this problem involves moving some 1.5 million cubic yards of sand from an offshore sandbar onto the beaches.

     When the project is finished, some three and a half miles of beach will have been widened.  

     The sandbar lies over a mile out in the ocean, so this is no small project.   Here is a photo of the large dredge, owned and operated by Norfolk Dredging.

    This company opened in 1899, and has completed huge projects all over the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico including the deepening of shipping lanes in major ports, creating berthing areas for docks, helping construct marinas, putting in large underwater lines and other such projects.

     Large flexible tubing winds its way out to the barge, allowing flexibility of movement as the dredge works its way around the sandbar.  Once onshore, this flexibility is not as important which allows steel piping to be used.  Through these pipes the sand mixed with water is pumped - currently it is traveling about four miles to its discharge point.

     The large pump is onshore - you can see the impeller (blue in color) on the left side of the trailer.  Inside is the diesel engine that drives it.  

     A project this size requires an engineering firm that can act as a liaison between the dredging company, the township, the local citizens, the Feds, the State and the various environmental agencies that are involved.  In this case CBI - Coastal Planning and Engineering Inc. is filling that role.

     This is Adam Priest, who acted as spokesperson for the company at a meeting to update concerned citizens.  Adam has a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and a master's degree in Ocean Engineering.

     The project started last year and was supposed to be completed May 10th.  But several challenges have come along that have slowed it down considerably.  The biggest is the weather - it was a bad winter here and the area is susceptible to strong currents.  

     There are numerous government agencies and environmental agencies involved, and the deadline of May 10th was set because of concern about  sea turtle egg laying season.  Adam and his company have been working feverishly with all of the various groups to see if an extension can be secured.  A lot of the agencies have agreed to it, but one or two crucial ones remain.  And you don't pack all this up in a day or two - it will take at least 10 days to break it all down.  

     Public hearings are always interesting, and Adam's demeanor makes him a great choice for interacting with the crowd.  One woman was upset that she can smell diesel exhaust from the tractors when she walks her dog, a point she belabored for the better part of five minutes.  But another expressed her gratitude for how much better the beach is where the work has been completed.

     Another problem emerged along the way.  It turns out that buried in areas of the offshore sandbar there is a lot of ancient fossilized sea life.

      So, solutions to this problem have been implemented.  Above you can see the section where they are pumping onto beach currently.  There are two pipes that alternate pumping.  Here is the valve that allows them to switch flow from one pipe to the other.

   At the end you will notice the "brown boxes."  These are just big cages that trap the fossilized rocks and let the sand and water out.  When the boxes fill up, they are dragged and dumped.

     When they are pumping, a lot of material is flying about.  On a good day they can complete 300 feet of beach - a football field.  But average is about half of that - there are a lot of working parts here and if any one of them breaks, the whole operation grinds to a halt.

     Getting stuff on and off the beach is cumbersome as there are only a few access points that can be used for the heavy equipment.

     On a separate lot they have a large brought in a "powerscreen," a large filtering unit to assist in the removal of the fossils.

     Here are a few of the things that are filtered out -

     a fossilized sand dollar and a regular sea shell I picked off the top of the waste pile.

     On other parts of the beach they bulldoze the sand layer by layer and use machines that screen the dirt as they go.  They can screen down to four feet deep using this method.

     After all this is done, there are horticulture folks who will be coming along to plant sea oats and other local species of plants on the new sections of dune.  The roots of these plants give the dunes a lot more stability.  This is important because the dunes provide the only buffer between the community and the heavy seas that come with big storms.

     All this costs a good bit of money - over $10 per cubic yard of sand, adding up to over 16 million dollars.  The town does not have that kind of money in reserves, so they needed a loan.  Where does one go to get a loan like this?

    It turns out they were able to secure financing from the Department of Agriculture through the USDA - the first time this agency has ever financed a project like this.

     Kim Miller is the loan specialist with the department that they turned to.

     Kim said it was a unique deal to get done - usually loans have something with a title or deed that acts as collateral for the loan.  She was able to push it through - and she did it in about four months.  If you know anything about government financing, that is remarkable.  I have seen simple home mortgages take much longer than that.

     So work is pushing forward - the dredge digging, the pump pushing the sand suspended in seawater flowing ashore, the filtering and the shaping of the beach.   

     This morning I attended the regular town council's meeting.  Here Ken Wilson, also with CBI addresses the group.

     The best line of the meeting came after about a half hour of discussing the various issues that could come up with getting permission to extend work for a few more weeks.  

Tom Leonard

     Mayor Pro Tem Tom Leonard said "Why don't we focus on what we can do instead of worrying about what might happen?"  That moved the meeting forward and everyone agreed to move forward on the assumption that things would work out.  I asked Tom later about his comment, and he said that his father was a fighter pilot who was adamant that you live in solutions.

Daniel Tuman

     Later the conversation turned to body cameras for police.  The town has three cameras, and one or two are often down for repairs.  They have applied for a grant to get enough for all their officers.

     The subject of installing surveillance cameras about town came up, and there were folks on both sides of the issue.  Some felt it helped both police and fire departments on many occasions, others felt that they moved to the island to get away from "Big Brother" constantly intruding.  Someone made the suggestion that the first camera go in the Mayor's bedroom.

     And so it goes - every community faces its issues, but this one has plenty on its plate.  And the beaches are an asset for a town like this - if you take away the beach the tourism goes with it. 

     It serves as yet another example where we get to see folks facing adversity head on and getting creative in their efforts to overcome it.  One photo that kind of tells the whole story here - taken at the town hall.

     Wheelchairs and walkers designed for the beach available for use by the community. 

     Today's "Faces in the Crowd" photo taken at a local restaurant - George and Barbara Bush adorning a pair of slippers.  The perfect gift for someone - maybe GW wears them.

     And today's parting shot, taken from another local establishment:

Click Here if you can contribute a few dollars to help me along the way on this journey, and Click Here to email me.  Click Here to go the the Daily Reflections page.

Have a great Weekend !!

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