Thursday, December 7, 2023

Corps of Engineers face potentially eroded beaches and new shoals after Hurricane Florence

Slow moving Hurricane Florence could have erased millions of dollars worth of work done to re-nourish beaches.

About 9,000 feet of pipeline can be seen on Wrightsville Beach as the 2018 Shoreline Sand Placement Project (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
About 9,000 feet of pipeline was laid just this past year for a beach nourishment project at Wrightsville Beach. (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

SOUTHEAST N.C. — Major storms like Hurricane Florence not only wreak havoc on homes and infrastructure but also cause significant damage to beaches through erosion.

Erosion takes place every day at the beach as waves crash on shore carrying away sand particles. That is why beach towns like Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach make efforts to restore beaches through expensive beach nourishment projects.

This past year the Town of Wrightsville Beach underwent a $10 million beach nourishment project — a project that has the potential to be undone thanks to heavy waves and high storm surge due to Florence.

These projects are generally done in unison with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) — the branch of government generally responsible for beaches in the country.

Related: Nearly $10 million beach nourishment program underway in Wrightsville Beach

USACE Chief of Engineering Branch Greg Williams said most of his crew had evacuated to Raleigh or Charlotte ahead of the storm. As soon as it is safe for Williams and his team to mobilize back to the Wilmington area they would begin assessing damages — and working on solutions, he said.

When the USACE is able to return, Williams said they will do a survey and compare the results to a pre-storm survey taken to asses the amount of damage done to the beaches.

Despite making landfall as a Category-One hurricane, Florence has the potential to have caused more damage to the shoreline than a stronger and faster-moving storm.

“This storm will take a toll on dune system – it is conceivable that you can have worse damage from slow-moving category one than a faster-moving category three or four,” Williams said.

Another issue these storms cause is shoaling. When sands are washed back into the ocean they can create sandbars and shoals in usually navigable waters. Once it is safe for the USACE will send the operations division to access any new shoaling found and issue warnings to boaters.

“Big storms make big shoals,” Williams said.

As the rest of the state continues to be cut off from Wilmington and the surrounding beach towns, it will still be a few days before the extent of the damages is known. Stay tuned to Port City Daily for updates on the situation.

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