IN MY LAST article in the Island Review I gave a brief overview of the history of beach nourishment in Atlantic Beach and relayed that we will have to adapt to changes in state regulations and federal funding in order to nourish the westernmost parts of our town.
Since the Beaufort Inlet leads to the State Port of Morehead City, the US Army Corps of Engineers (the “Corps”) has maintained the inlet through dredging. A byproduct of this dredging has been the beneficial use of some of the sand to nourish our beaches at Fort Macon and Atlantic Beach. Our arrangement with the Corps has evolved over time and is the result of a lot of work both at the local level and from our representatives in Washington, DC. It has been guided by grass roots movements and, in large part, by a major lawsuit filed against the Corps by the Carteret County Beach Commission several years ago. Through these efforts and the work of the County Beach Commission (which has become a model for the rest of the state), our beaches are in great shape.
In order to keep our beaches healthy, we are going to have to adapt to changes that have taken place in Washington, DC and Raleigh. Whether we like it or not – and I usually don’t – what happens in these two capital cities impacts us at the municipal level.
The Corps operates under a “least cost disposal” policy that dictates what they can do with dredged sand from the inlet. If they can put the sand on the beach at a lower cost than dumping it offshore, they will put it on the beach. If, however, it is less expensive to dump it offshore, the sand will go offshore. We have been able to nourish nearly all of Atlantic Beach under this least cost disposal policy in the past. But, a recent change in state law has forced us to rethink how we get sand to the western portion of Atlantic Beach.
The majority of Atlantic Beach and Fort Macon – the area from the inlet and Fort Macon to just west of the Circle – have continued to receive nourishment under the least cost disposal policy and we are working with the Corps to make sure this does not change. But, since it costs the Corps a lot more money to pump sand to the western end of town, it is harder for them to do so under their least cost disposal policy.
The western part of town has been nourished before by pumping the dredge spoils out of Brandt Island across from the Port of Morehead City. This area is located closer to the west end of Atlantic Beach than the inlet and the Corps pumps could reach farther west without the additional costs of expensive booster pumps and piping. But, the “sand” stored in Brandt Island was from the inner harbor at the Port and was a much more fine-grained, silty material that when placed on the beach looked a bit like mud. The State of North Carolina has since changed its laws to prohibit the placement of this fine-grained material on beaches. In other words, due to federal least cost disposal rules, the Corps may not be able to pump good sand from the inlet all the way to the western end of town and, due to state laws, the Corps cannot put the fine-grained material in Brandt Island on the beach at all.
These impacts of federal policy and state law are making us rethink how to nourish our beaches west of the Circle. In the next issue of the Island Review, I will relay how we can do it at minimal cost to Atlantic Beach.