Beachfill and Safety

Beach replenishment is one of the only tools in the Army Corps of Engineers’ toolbox, not to mention the largest. We have said it deserves a critical eye for quite some time now, and Delaware Beach Life magazine did just that from the safety perspective. Lynn R. Parks takes a good hard look here, one needs to register to see the full article, but it is free and well worth typing in your name and email.

If one more person breaks their neck on a replenished beach will all that expensive, temporary property protection be worth it?

Security Theater

The big news this week was that the Transportation Security Administration, TSA, failed 95% of tests where undercover agents brought weapons, fake bomb parts and contraband through airport security screening. Why is a website dedicated to coastal resilience telling you this? It is because we hope to avoid the coastal equivalent of Security Theater. Security Theater are the activities that look good to the untrained eye; full body scanners, people taking their shoes off, etc., that do not really keep us safer.

We are wondering if there is a coastal equivalent – if there are things that “look good” but that don’t really protect the vast majority of us. A better question might be what is the most efficient? What measures provides the most protection for the coastal resiliency dollar. We definitely can’t send fake hurricanes up the coast to test this.

Our guess is that beach replenishment is in the category of things that look really good to the untrained eye. But upon closer inspection, it takes a massive amount of resources, but delivers most of the benefits to a very small number of people; the owners oceanfront line of houses. Even then the protection is mostly from wave attack, and this is only when massive dunes are built. We have plenty of evidence that beaches replenished with no dunes provided little protection from Sandy. So even with replenishment, everyone behind the oceanfront line of houses on barrier islands is still subject to regular flooding and inundation, and everyone on the mainland lining the bay is vulnerable still. No amount of sand on any ocean-side beach will protect those on the other side of the island or the other side of the Bay.

 

The $24 Million Mile

Beach replenishment has always been expensive, and we can distinctly remember a project in 2008 when the cost reached the $10 million-a-mile mark. So we found it astounding that the recent beachfill in Monmouth County from Loch Arbour to Deal, NJ – a stretch of 1.6 miles – clocks in at a whopping $38.2 million. That’s damn near $24 million a mile. But wait there’s more. This beachfill does not even include dunes, only flat, wide beaches the kind that provided no protection from Hurricane Sandy. The kind of beachfill that Spring Lake, Belmar, Monmouth Beach, and Sea Bright all had. Yet those towns suffered devastating losses as a result of Sandy.

At any price, we think the impacts on recreation, the loss of surf breaks and fishing habitat are not worth it. The disgusting sand is not worth it. And the band-aid applied to our poor coastal planning and development is not worth it. But at $24 million a mile, this practice needs some serious thought. There are 127 miles of NJ oceanfront. At this rate, that’s $3 Billion, on top of the $1 Billion already spent on replenishment in this state. Can you think of anything you would rather have the federal government do with $3 Billion?

Good just-the-facts-ma’am kind of reporting in this NJ Spotlight article by Scott Gurian is where we pulled the numbers from.

Jenkinson’s Lawsuit on Dunes / Easements

Oh boy, this sure does complicate things. Now big beach businesses are pushing back, against big beach replenishment and dune projects; not just single family homeowners. For the record, the lawyer quoted in this article actually seems to know what he’s talking about. By MaryAnn Spoto of the Star Ledger http://www.nj.com/ocean/index.ssf/2014/12/jenkinsons_suing_feds_state_over_beach_replenishment_plan.html#incart_m-rpt-1

Can we agree that all this beach replenishment, which is really expensive, and does not really work, is getting to be more and more of a hassle? Can we try pulling back from the water’s edge a bit?  Give the most dynamic system on earth a little bit more Room to Move? We know that retreat sounds very hard, but compared to this? Maybe not so much.

 

The Politics of Building Dunes

Natural dunes are something that everyone in a coastal community supports. Man-made dunes, the kind the Army Corps of Engineers builds, have less support often because they are less effective, they are often part of bad beachfill projects, and because a select few people don’t like the fact that their view will be blocked (although they seem to get all the headlines). But the real opposition comes when you want to build those dunes on people’s private property, and the government demands an easement on that property forever. NJ Governor Chris Christie has made a few enemies where he should have friends, as told in this AP story Nov, 30, 2014.

Reuters Report on Sea Level Rise

Wallops Island, Virginia is a NASA base. The people who work there are rocket scientists, literally. But instead of moving the barrier island facility to a place it will be safe from sea level rise, they have spent $100 million on new buildings and $43 million on dredged sand to protect the island, half of which has washed away.

You have to give it to the reporters…who do excellent in-depth reporting.  This Reuters Report on Sea Level Rise is as informing as it is through. The Wallops Island tale is just one of many.  http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/waters-edge-the-crisis-of-rising-sea-levels/#article-1-insidious-invasion.  By Ryan McNeill, Deborah J. Nelson and Duff Wilson It is part of a series so look for posts on the other parts coming out soon.

Wallops_Island_-_Overview