Fed Funds Another Year Of Assateague Work

BERLIN – The multi-year project to replenish the sands of northern Assateague Island will be funded for another year with $1.72 million in federal funds just awarded.

“We should be able to continue with the biannual sand bypassing project,” said Mary Dann, Army Corps of Engineers project manager for the work.

Carl Zimmerman, head of resource management at Assateague Island National Seashore (AINS), said the project is scheduled to occur twice annually for the next two decades.

“This is nothing new. It started five years ago,” Zimmerman said.

The project, underway since 2002, brings ocean sand in twice a year to counter the lack of sand washed onto the island’s northern shores since the Ocean City Inlet formed and jetties were built to maintain that opening into the coastal bays 73 years ago.

“The effects of the jetties stablize the Inlet. That’s cut off the flow of sand to Assateague,” Zimmerman said.

The jetties retain the sand that would historically have been deposited on the northern end of Assateague Island, and the island is washing away without any replacement.

“We’re trying to emulate the conditions that were there before the interruption,” said Dann. 

Wind action carries sand further south, she said, further diminishing the island. The effects of the sand starvation reach several miles down the beach.

“Sand kept eroding and it wasn’t being replenished,” she said.

Consequences of the reduced sand and erosion include a reduction in vegetation on the island and reduced habitat for species like the endangered piping plover.

With less sand, there is also the chance the island could be breached in a storm, with a channel cut through the barrier island from the ocean to the coastal bay behind the island.

The project began in 2002, using sand dredged from Great Gull Bank, off Assateague Island, to build the barrier island back up, and is now using sand dredged from the Ocean City Inlet, sand that would have likely made its way to Assateague Island without the jetties keeping the Inlet open.

AINS splits the cost with the Army Corps of Engineers, which relies on funding designated through Congress for the project. The park’s half of the funding, on the other hand, is a line item in the annual budget, Zimmerman explained.