Officials Discuss Beach Replenishment, Inlet Shoaling

OCEAN CITY — Parallel natural and man-made processes regarding beach replenishment and the dredging of the Inlet were the subject of debate last week.

The federal Army Corps of Engineers hopper dredge Murden is currently in Ocean City dredging sand from the Inlet as part of the Assateague Bypass project, which removes material in and around the navigation channel with an emphasis on the ebb and flood shoals that traditionally trap sand moving southward toward Assateague. The hopper dredge then deposits the material removed from the Inlet at the north end of Assateague where it counteracts erosion on the barrier island.

The Inlet and other channels in and around the commercial harbor naturally fill in and are in continual need of maintenance dredging, the problem has become even more acute in recent years. In recent years, some vessels operating out the commercial harbor have found it difficult, if not impossible, to pass through the Inlet even on the highest of tides because of shoaling.

Meanwhile, on a parallel course is the beach replenishment project, which is set to get underway this fall. Ocean City’s beaches are replenished every four years, or occasionally more frequently if the beaches are severely damaged and eroded during hurricanes or coastal storms. The resort’s beaches have been replenished five times since the inception of the Atlantic Coast of Maryland Shoreline Protection Project.

Beach replenishment began in Ocean City in 1994 through a 50-year agreement with the town, Worcester County and the state of Maryland partnering with the federal Army Corps of Engineers, which provides over 50 percent of the funding for the massive undertaking. The overall project includes a wider, elevated beach, a protective sea wall along the Boardwalk and a vegetated dune system from the end of the Boardwalk to the Delaware state line

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The Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, earlier this month got a briefing on the federal Army Corps of Engineers study of ways to mitigate the silting in of the Inlet channel and how to address a scour hole. During last week’s Mayor and Council meeting, a review of the Green Team meeting and the recommendations from the Army Corps on the Inlet were presented.

City Engineer Terry McGean explained the Army Corps was considering two options. The favored option called for closing the existing gaps in the north jetty and extending it northward in a hook to collect more sand and prevent it from essentially sucking into the Inlet. The preferred alternative also calls for moving the navigation channel in the Inlet to the south where it is naturally deeper. In terms of the scour hole, the plan calls for filling it with stone, rather than dredging it, which is part of the first alternative. With the Inlet dredging project ongoing, and beach replenishment set to begin, Councilman Mark Paddack asked if the two projects were mutually exclusive.

“There is no mention of any adjustments for beach replenishment,” he said. “Do you have a copy of the study? A couple of years ago there was a study of the Inlet and the scour hole?”

McGean said he did review the Army Corps study and that it did not consider beach replenishment as it directly relates to the Inlet.

“I do have a copy of the study,” he said. “It looks at ways to avoid continued shoaling in the Inlet. It’s not part of beach replenishment.”

Paddack said it looked as if the two projects were directly related, however.

“It looks like there are two things going on here,” he said. “One the one hand, they’re trying to mitigate sand in the Inlet. Another federal agency is pumping sand onto the beach that migrates into the south jetty.”

McGean agreed there were some correlations between nourishing the beach by pumping sand from offshore shoals every four years, and the silting problem that exists in the Inlet. When the Inlet was created during the famed 1933 storm, it was fortified with stone jetties on either side to make it permanent. A side result over the years has been a change in the historic sand migration patterns.

“They do work together somewhat,” he said. “We do replenish the beach. The beach is going to erode no matter what. The Inlet acts like a funnel for sand and the shoals form. It the mid-1990s, there was a very extensive study. If the Inlet wasn’t there, that sand would naturally migrate to Assateague.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.