No Solution Picked For Long-Term Sand Source

OCEAN CITY – The federal Army Corps of Engineers has determined the source of sand for the latest installment of the ongoing beach replenishment project in Ocean City in 2010, but no decision has been made on sources for the long-term life of the project.

This time last year, the Army Corps of Engineers released the final recommendations for long-term offshore sand sources for the life of the ongoing Ocean City beach replenishment project, identifying three shoals off the coast of the resort as those best suited to provide the materials for the next three decades. In the nearly two decades since the first Ocean City replenishment project was completed, the identified sources of sand offshore have nearly been depleted and an effort began over a year ago to find new sources of borrow material for the remainder of the 50-year life of the project.

The next phase of the beach replenishment project in Ocean City is set for sometime next year, likely in the spring in advance of the summer season. After that next phase, the Corps will have likely exhausted the current sources of sand for beach replenishment and will look elsewhere for new sources in the out years of the 50-year project although no plans have been finalized.

“No long-term decisions beyond 2010 have been made,” said Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Mary Dan. “After 2010, we will need to identify and utilize new sources of sand, but nothing has been finalized yet, and won’t likely be finalized until the need is identified.”

Dan said a variety of factors could determine the sand sources for beach replenishment in Ocean City in the future including the frequency and ferocity of storms and the ever-changing bottom off the coast.

“It’s kind of a static situation,” she said. “It changes all the time. We will continue to do our surveys and make decisions in the future based on the volume of material needed and the most suitable sources for that material.”

In the short term, the Corps has identified two sources for sand for the upcoming beach replenishment phase in 2010 and will be returning to areas frequently used in the past. Borrow Area 9 and Borrow Area 3, both in state waters less than three miles off the beach in the midtown area of the resort, will be utilized sometime next spring or early summer.

“The Corps plans to use Borrow Area 9 and possibly Borrow Area 3 for the 2010 renourishment,” said Dan. “These are areas that we’ve used in the past and nothing different than anything before. They are both located within state waters. Barring any extreme storm events, the Corps does not anticipate going offshore into federal waters for this 2010 renourishment.”

Beyond 2010, the Corps will have to look beyond its traditional borrow sites for the life of the project. With 36 years left on the economic commitment to the project, the Army Corps has been in the process of identifying new sources of sand from the shoals off the coast of the resort.

Last year, the Corps released its final recommendations, naming three specific areas for dredging, citing their ample supply of material and their minimum potential impact on environmental and economic factors.

The final plan was coordinated with input from federal, state and local resources agencies, academic experts and fishermen. The plan was then submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which will ultimately hold sway over any final decision on new sand sources for the project.

The beaches of Ocean City are replenished roughly every four years with sand pumped from identified shoals off the coast of the resort in a project that began in 1991. Depending on the ferocity of storms and other natural factors, roughly 800,000 cubic yards of sand are pumped onto the beach in Ocean City every four years.

With a 50-year local, state and federal economic commitment that will carry the project through to 2044, the amount of sand needed to continue the beach replenishment effort for the next 37 years or so ranges from 6.8 million cubic yards to as high as 15 million cubic yards. The great disparity in the estimates is related to the frequency and strength of coastal storms that ravage the coast of the resort each year.

According to Army Corps’ officials, barring severe storms and serious displacement, the 800,000 cubic yards of sand needed every four years equates to 6.8 billion cubic yards for the life of the project. However, if the pattern of increased storm activity over the last decade or so continues, the estimate jumps to 15 million cubic yards of sand.

The new sources of sand for the continuation of the so-called Atlantic Coast of Maryland Shoreline Protection Project have focused on offshore shoals in federal waters since they contain large quantities of suitable sand that can be most cost-effectively obtained.

Whatever sites are eventually chosen, the Army Corps has strict dredging guidelines and constraints to follow to minimize impacts to the shoals. For example, in order to best ensure the long-term habitat features of the shoals are maintained, no more than about five percent of the total volume of any shoal can be dredged. The total bottom area impacted by dredging through the remainder of the project life is estimated to be about seven square miles of seafloor.