NORTH TOPSAIL BEACH — A coastal town in Onslow County has four projects simultaneously under way, adding sand to its beaches and improving the sustainability of its future.
“I’ve never seen as many large projects happening in North Topsail Beach at the same time,” Mayor Joann McDermon said at Wednesday’s board of aldermen meeting.
Some of the work is FEMA-reimbursable from hurricane damage; one is being funded by a state grant and part of the funding is coming out of the town’s pocket. But in total, more than $18 million is going toward beach renourishment, with roughly 1.3 million cubic yards of sand added to North Topsail Beach.
North Topsail Beach withdrew in July 2021 from a federal United States Army Corps Engineer 50-year project it was planning to partake in with neighboring Surf City. It cited the expense of the town’s portion of $33.7 million — for only 4 of 11 miles of beach — was more than it could afford, as estimates increased 193% between 2012 and 2021.
The town has been receiving small portions of sand over the last four years, the majority FEMA-supported due to damage from Hurricane Florence in 2018.
In November, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began placing 160,000 cubic yards of dredged sand in the northernmost portion of the beach, from the New River Inlet.
The project wrapped Feb. 28, two weeks later than planned.
To augment the dredging, the town is beginning this week to haul in another 45,000 cubic yards, 15,000 of which are FEMA-funded. FEMA’s portion will cover $600,000 of the $1.8 million project, leaving the town to foot the rest of the bill. The town will pay its $1.2 million portion out of its beach nourishment fund.
North Topsail released its 30-year beach management plan in 2009 and funds replenishment through a portion of the town’s sales tax and property taxes. Seventy-five percent of paid parking revenue and 100% of accommodations taxes also go into the shoreline protection fund.
Last year the town collected $4.4 million for its nourishment program.
The 45,000 cubic yards of sand laid this week will overlap with some beachfront in USACE’s recently dredged area but extend farther south to St. Regis Resort. Work must wrap by April 1 due to turtle nesting season, but the town is hoping to file for a permit extension into May.
“Time is of the essence,” Derian said at the meeting.
On the southernmost portion of the beach, contractor S.T. Wooten has been trucking in sand since February 2022 but temporarily halted last May. Construction and heavy-machinery work is prohibited between May and November for turtle nesting season.
The project started up again in November; as of last week, 151,018 cubic yards of sand had been placed. The town voted at its January board meeting to open the Second Avenue access point to expedite the project, allowing more trucks to come in and work at once.
In total, this phase will receive 636,000 cubic yards of sand over 18,500 feet of beachfront.
Also approved Wednesday was the acceptance of a $10.5-million grant awarded by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The money will be used for an additional 465,000 cubic yards of sand along 2.5 miles of beach from Highway 210 south past Rogers Bay campground. Work by contractor CM Mitchell is slated to begin in November 2023 and wrap by April 30, 2024.
The southernmost 6.5 miles of beach will be a FEMA category G engineered beach, making it easier to receive financial assistance following damage from storms.
To better maintain costly beach renourishment, the USACE has released a notice of intent to construct a terminal groin at the north end of North Topsail. A single structure of large stones allows high tide or storm waves to wash over the top in order to slow erosion.
Following channel dredging adjacent to the New River Inlet in 2013, the shoreline experienced higher-than-expected erosion rates, causing the rapid loss of beach fill that was placed the year prior.
Between 2014 and 2015, the town constructed a 3,600-foot sandbag revetment — bags filled with sand and placed along the shoreline — but it’s only a short-term solution. The town wants to proceed with the terminal groin for added protection in the northern part of the beach, near Topsail Reef Villas.
North Topsail Beach’s historic erosion rates have been 2 feet per year, except in the New River Inlet Hazard Area, often clocked in at 10 feet per year or more.
Nearly all of the material placed on approximately 3,700 linear feet of shoreline had eroded, according to USACE’s notice of intent, released Tuesday. The notice indicated the USACE will prepare an environmental impact statement before proceeding. A draft EIS will be released in three to four months, but the total process could take 10 to 12 years.
For example, a terminal groin project underway in Ocean Isle Beach took 11 years from submission of an EIS request to the Corps before construction began in November 2021.
Ocean Isle’s groin is only the second one in North Carolina; Bald Head Island was the first. The state legislature considers terminal groins experimental and only allows for the construction of four statewide.
They were banned statewide until 2011, as environmentalists claim terminal groins can harm beachfront not covered by the structure and could lead to costly maintenance. According to the N.C. Coastal Federation, they can also create dangerous rip currents.
The groin would be a 2,021-foot-long sheet pile and rubber-mound structure. Every four years the area would receive approximately 310,000 cubic yards of sand, over a 30-year period.
One cubic yard of sand covers roughly 162 square feet and weighs 1.35 tons.
Town manager Alice Derian told the board Wednesday this is in the very preliminary stages. Actual construction of the groin is still years out. She estimated it could be $18 million, triple the cost from a few years back. The town would have to foot the bill.
“[T]hat will escalate each year as we move forward,” Derian said.
Tips or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.