OCEAN CITY – In an effort to find new sources of material offshore for the ongoing beach replenishment project, a public meeting was held Wednesday night to outline the program, identify the areas under consideration and allow for public comment.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the identified sources of sand offshore for the beach replenishment project in Ocean City could be exhausted by 2010, well before the project is to be completed in 2044.
In 1994, construction for the project was completed, providing protection against coastal flooding and erosion for a 100-year storm event and also providing for a 50-year economic life. The project called for widening and raising of 8.2 miles of beach, adding a steel sheet pile bulkhead to 1.5 miles of beach and adding sand dunes from 28th Street to the Maryland-Delaware line.
“To maintain that project, we have to nourish that beach every four years,” said Army Corps Project Manager Mary Dan, who added the next replenishment is slated to occur in 2010.
The Army Corps has estimated that 6.8 million to 15 million cubic yards of sand will be required for beach replenishment through the project’s completion in 2044. The disparity in the estimate takes into account the storms that could ravage the coast during that time.
With the current sources of sand nearing exhaustion, the Corps began identifying areas that could be used for the beach replenishment project. Areas considered included the mainland, the bottom of the coastal bays, offshore shoals and the ocean floors. The offshore shoals were chosen as the best option due to the large quantities of sand available, impacts and cost effectiveness.
According to Army Corps officials, there are 22 shoals within 15 miles of the shore. Of those, roughly eight were chosen as sand source possibilities. The eight shoals were chosen based on their proximity to the shore.
Upon examining the eight shoals to meet environmental, economic and engineering conditions, three shoals were selected for consideration, Shoal “A”, the Isle of Wight Shoal and the Weaver Shoal.
Also under consideration was Shoal “B”, also known as Bass Grounds and the First Lump. Shoal “B” has been ruled out for the time being due to its value to the fishing community. Should its value as a fishing ground decrease in the future, the shoal could be re-evaluated and considered as a sand source.
Army Corps of Engineers official Chris Spaur explained that the living environment and habitat were major factors in choosing the shoals. The living things that can be found on the shoals are squid, sea turtles, birds, varieties of sea mammals, sand dollars, moon snails and 300 species of finfish. The shoal is also the tallest feature of the predominantly flat sea floor.
To prevent any significant upset to the shoal habitat, the Corps plans to take less than 5 percent of volume for each shoal. They will also avoid the crest of the shoal where sea birds dive for food and dredge from the ends rather than the middle. The plan also calls for dredging from wider, spread out area as opposed to deep, isolated areas.
“We expect the life of the seafloor to be recovered fairly quickly,” Spaur said.
Spaur explained that although environmental impact is unavoidable, officials expect that it will be minimal and easily recovered. To help with recovery, dredging would occur in the spring and fall, avoiding the cold months when it would be more difficult for fish to move away from the dredge quickly.
“We’re in a luxurious situation,” said Spaur as he explained the ample amounts of sand available in the shoals.
The three shoals could potentially provide 70 million cubic yards of sand for replenishment, which well exceeds the 15 million needed by 2044.
Spaur stressed the importance of beach replenishment and the necessities for more sand sources.
“Basically without the beach nourishment, you wouldn’t have a beach in Ocean City,” he concluded.
After the presentation, a period of formal comment was allowed.
Merrill Campbell, a commercial fisherman in West Ocean City, spoke on behalf of the fishing industry.
“As stakeholders in the fishing industry, we have a few concerns,” Campbell said.
One of the main points that Campbell addressed was the potential threat to the sturgeon fish that inhabit the Weaver Shoal. Campbell suggested that the situation be examined more closely before doing anything that could threaten the fish’s welfare.
Campbell also suggested that the sand being pumped from the Inlet and the sand that is naturally filling the coastal bays each year be considered as a sand source.
Campbell did show support for the plan’s goal to take only 5 percent of the volume of each shoal, commending the Corps for the restrictions.
“We are affected by reduced fishing areas,” Campbell said, explaining that any loss of potential fishing area could be detrimental to the fishing industry. Campbell concluded that his recommendation would be for Shoal “A”.
The opportunity for public comment will continue until Aug. 28. All comments will be added to the Environmental Impact Study before a final decision on the sources is made.