It was good news and bad news for local beach towns last week, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and contractor Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. met with local officials for an update on the planned beach replenishment projects in Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island.
The good news: Replenishment was coming, and soon, and the federal government is picking up the tab.
The bad news: It’s not coming soon enough to avoid impacting this summer season.
But local officials are definitely looking on the bright side.
“Any concerns the Town might have regarding the schedule for replenishment and its possible impact on the Town are overridden by how pleased and fortunate the Town is to once again have its protective beach and dune restored,” Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet told the Coastal Point this week.
With Bethany’s replenishment work scheduled to start in mid-May and run through mid-June, the early part of the summer season — vital to business owners and property owners who rely on summer rental income — will certainly be impacted by the replenishment work, which will close a 1,000-foot section of the beach that will move about 200 feet each day as subsections are completed.
“Might there be some minor impact on revenues? Yes,” Graviet acknowledged, “but those impacts are minimal compared to the impact of having no beach in Bethany this summer, or a dune to prevent the kind of damage that any significant nor’easter or hurricane might have on the community.”
With the area seeing high seas and beach erosion from a nor’easter in the first few days of March and an additional storm looming over the area early this week, Graviet said his focus was firmly on the benefits replenishment provides to the town and its property owners, no matter what the timing.
“We realize the potential inconvenience of replenishment in a May/June timeframe, to homeowners, renters, visitors, businesses, etc.,” he said, “but a person only needs to watch today as the current storm destroys what little dune is left on our oceanfront while waves break on our steps to the beach, to realize how important replenishment is today to Bethany Beach.”
Those steps, he noted, will be getting rebuilt as part of the project, along with beach access via dune crossovers and dune fence to help protect and grow the dune after it is reconstructed — all at no cost to the Town.
To minimize the impact of the work on the summer season, the Corps has approved work to take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Graviet said the Town will cooperate with that effort by not enforcing noise ordinances that might hinder progress.
“While we realize the inconvenience that some may experience while crews work 24 hours a day, we also realize that a project that is scheduled to take 28 days, working three shifts a day, would take much, much longer during the summer on any other schedule,” he said.
Graviet said that the replenishment should have no impact on the Seaside Craft Show on June 2, or any other summer events that the Town is aware of at this time.
Nor’easter offers reminder of the benefits
Just down the coast in South Bethany, officials also recognize that while some may not be happy about the timing and other inconveniences of the project, most have been through this before and will relish the wider beach and restored dune once the work is complete.
“We live here and we have a house right on Ocean Drive, and it’s pretty much an ocean town, so we’ve pretty much been front-and-center for breach replenishment,” South Bethany Town Council Member Tim Shaw told the Coastal Point.
When they first built the dune, the construction was very disruptive, he said, but replenishment isn’t as bad now, he asserted, since the dune blocks some light and noise from the construction zone for those living in the nearby houses — both full-time residents and those visiting for a vacation.
“Since we do have still our dune, that does help a bit to keep [out] the light and sound from the worker bees,” he said. “They work 24/7. … This is a temporary thing. We’re very sad that it disrupts someone’s vacation plans. We don’t have control over it, and we need it.”
Shaw, too, had only to look out his window to see the impact a nor’easter can have on an unreplenished beach after last week’s storm.
“We had very little beach,” he said.
That will start to change beginning in mid-June, running through early July. And when all is said and done, Shaw noted, “This too will pass. And at the end of it, we will have a beautiful beach and a protective dune.”
Shaw emphasized that the Town expected no impacts on its streets due to the work, which will include contractors returning within 14 days of the sand work to address fencing and crossovers, while the dune grass won’t be replanted until at least October, due to planting requirements.
Shaw said South Bethany lifeguards will be working to ensure beachgoers don’t venture into the closed section of beach, and he acknowledged that there will be some inconvenience that they’ll have to deal with.
“Clearly, we need to advise our owners and renters and rental agents about the impact,” he said. “Better to be forewarned than to be surprised. This will also probably impact the beach movie schedule and things like yoga and boot camp on the beach, and possibly even the Fourth of July festivities,” he noted.
Communication a focus in Fenwick
On the other side of state park beaches and dunes, Town Manager Teresa “Terry” Tieman told the Coastal Point that Fenwick Island, too, is prepared to deal with the inconveniences for the sake of the finished product and its benefits.
“We can’t control it,” she acknowledged. “Of course we appreciate that the businesses and the people that have rentals will be affected, but we also know this is a necessary project, and it is federally funded — and the beach doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the State.
She said Fenwick has survived replenishment work before and will survive it again.
“When they’re working in an area, we’ll have to pull the Mobi-Mats up,” she said of the accessibility-enhancing mats the three towns use on their dune crossings, which she said will be put back down once the project is done.
Tieman noted that the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol always offers assistance with beach access to those with handicaps, using a “side-by-side” off-road vehicle. People can already request a ride over the dunes, and the service seems to increase in popularity each year, she said, adding that she expects requests for transport over the dunes to increase this year.
She said the beach patrol and longtime Capt. Tim Ferry are familiar with the replenishment projects, too, and will be ready to help out as needed.
Tieman said she realizes there will be some inconveniences and concerns for local residents, visitors and businesses.
“The business community — they’re, of course, upset and concerned how this will affect their revenues for the beach season. We’re going to do everything we can do, by communicating every day changes that we know,” she said.
“Right now, we plan to be ‘business as usual,’ except working around the replenishment schedule. It’s estimated about three weeks here in Fenwick,” she said of the work, which is scheduled for early to mid- or late July in Fenwick Island.
“It’s needed, and I’m sure we’ll get through it,” Tieman said. “It’s going to take teamwork and good communication.”