Beach replenishment again in S. Bethany

A major five-town beach replenishment project is making its way up the Sussex County coast, restarting now after delays in South Bethany. After completion of replenishment in Fenwick Island and with work now ongoing in South Bethany, dredging will continue north to Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach, finishing by Memorial Day 2012.

Local beachgoers have anticipated beach replenishment since a 2009 nor’easter washed huge amounts sand off the coast soon after major beach reconstruction was completed.

“The November storm two years ago really destroyed the beach and the dunes, especially in the southern end,” said Jay Headman, mayor of South Bethany.

The southern edge of the town lost four or five streets worth of dune, which can provide a sea barrier for homes, Headman said.

Recent storms Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee did not erode the beaches as much as the 2009 Veterans Day storm, also known as Nor’Ida, but the narrowed beaches and breached dunes were overdue for attention.

Work began in South Bethany around Oct. 6, after a week’s delay for high seas and wind gusts. Dredging ceased again for two weeks because of mechanical problems with the hydraulic dredge. Once repaired, the dredge was ready for action again Oct 24.

South Bethany beach replenishment is expected to take another three or four weeks before moving north to Bethany, but Sarah Rivette of the Army Corps of Engineers said the schedule is flexible.

Headman said his town is “very pleased” with beach replenishment. Benefits include the protection of a large sand barrier and enhanced attractiveness for vacationers.

“More people come … because we used to be a beach community where there was very little beach during high tide. Now, when they come, they know there will be a beach!” Headman said.

By December, almost 1.6 million cubic yards of sand will have been added to Bethany and South Bethany. Dewey and Rehoboth beaches are slated to receive 1.03 million cubic yards, beginning in February after a holiday hiatus.

The Corps originally planned to pump 537,000 cubic yards of sand onto the beaches in Bethany and South Bethany, but the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) requested more sand after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Rivette said the Corps prefers to do all of the work needed in the area at one time. The federally funded project will cost a total of $35.3 million.

The Army Corps is managing the storm damage reduction project in cooperation with DNREC, which will use its equipment and workers to push the dredged sand into place and reconstruct the dunes and dune crossings to the engineered plan for the reconstructed beaches. The Corps “adds protection to the infrastructure of coastal areas” by dumping barriers of sand with the most effective dune height and width, Rivette said.

During the dredging phase, a hydraulic dredge is situated a few miles offshore, pumping sand through a large pipe to the beach. State employees will follow closely behind them, working to re-sculpt the dunes. The ocean then naturally redistributes the beachfront sand on other portions of the coast.

During Fenwick Island’s August replenishment, some people noticed that a sticky gray material was being pumped onto the beach. That was simply clay mixed with soil and water, Rivette said – a mixture that causes beach discoloration but no other major problems. The dredge operates near clay and fine sand, so contractors must simply remain vigilant while working, she said.

Rivette recalled that the Fenwick clay problem was quickly identified and addressed.

“We just gotta make sure what we’re placing is appropriate,” Rivette said.

In 2005, the Corps of Engineers entered a 50-year contract with DNREC to resurvey and replenish the beaches every five years, if funding is available. In 2009, the Corps got special emergency authority and extra funds to address beach damage after the November nor’easter.

Congress determines which projects to fund, so Headman expressed gratitude to Delaware’s local and national representatives for continued support of South Bethany’s replenishment.

South Bethany’s replenishment is expected to last one month, followed by Bethany Beach. Memorial Day 2012 is the deadline for contractor Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company to complete all four beaches.

The mile-long South Bethany section covers from Evergreen Road southward to the northern tip of Fenwick Island State Park. The boundaries of the Bethany Beach segment will be determined approximately two weeks before dredging starts, after a pre-construction survey is completed.

Only public-access beaches can be replenished by the Corps, so private beaches are not included in the project, though in the past private communities have arranged to “piggyback” on the public projects by taking advantage of the dredging equipment already being in the area and thus reducing their costs.

Because the large projects tend to attract curious beachgoers, Rivette warned the general public to be careful near construction sites and follow the workers’ instruction. Sections of beach near the current work zone will be closed, moving along with the work zone.