Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Recent full-moon tide and northeaster eroded some of Surf City’s recently restored dunes

Beach engineer Chris Gibson expected some of the newly arrived sand to be pushed back out to sea during the spring northeaster season, but said it’s all a part of the symbiotic relationship between beach nourishment work and “Mother Nature."

High tide on Topsail Beach during last week's full moon high tide. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Bob Loy)
Topsail Beach, directly south of Surf City, during last week’s full moon high tide. Beach engineer Chris Gibson said Topsail Beach’s dunes were affected “not nearly as much” as Surf City’s dunes. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Bob Loy)

SURF CITY — Last week a northeaster hit Topsail Island during a full moon, washing away some of the dunes that were built in recent weeks as part of Surf City’s ongoing $5-million sand-haul project and a separate $300,000 beach push.

Beach engineer Chris Gibson, who has led much of the island’s beach renourishment work since Hurricane Florence, said high spring tides were exacerbated by winds coming from the northeast to cause the erosion. The recent beach push operation involved bulldozers plowing sand from low tide areas to high tide areas of the beach to build temporary dunes, which Gibson said lowered the elevation of the beach.

“When you push and lower the profile a little bit, the water’s able to get in farther. So what you’ve pushed up, the water can get to it,” Gibson said. “With the amount we did lose in the storm – the push and dune restoration is going to have some losses initially because the overall elevation of the beach isn’t there.”

He said the full eastern moon on March 20 added about a foot-and-a-half elevation to the tide, but such an event was extreme. Although he expects minor erosion of the dunes to continue through spring, he is eyeing the southern winds of summer to push back some of that lost sand back towards the beach.

Mayor Doug Medlin, a lifelong resident of Surf City, elaborated.

“During the summertime, the beach builds up,” Medlin said. “Once we get through the northeaster season in the spring, then the beach will start building back up because the southern wind pushes the sand back in.”

Medlin said that although the extreme high tide delayed the sand-haul operation, he still expects the work to be finished by May 1 –– the start of the turtle nesting season. The beach push, he said, has been completed.

Mother Nature’s ebbs and flows

According to Gibson, the erosion of the sand dunes this spring is part of a symbiotic relationship between man-controlled beach nourishment activities and “Mother Nature.” First, such erosion is a short-term sacrifice that benefits long-term beach nourishment work.

“When you look at the program we’re now starting to do at Surf City, and that we’ve been doing the past decade at Topsail Beach, each time we’ve had a storm, the sand we have put out there has been taken offshore,” Gibson said. “And when it gets taken offshore it widens the footprint – the foundation of the island. You need Mother Nature to deconstruct what you’ve done and then work with her to construct on top of that. It’s a layered process.”

According to Gibson, the dunes of Topsail Beach, just south of Surf City, were affected “not nearly as much” as the dunes in Surf City.

Second, Gibson said residents often compare beachfront work to the construction of a stationary building; he urged them to consider that initial beach nourishment designs on the slope of the beach or the shape of the dunes are molded by the forces of nature over time.

“Anybody who thinks we put it [the sand] there and that’s exactly how it’s going to be, that’s not the way it works,” Gibson said. “You put it there as close as you can, and Mother Nature goes back and molds it to what she wants, and you work with that. It’s a constant symbiotic relationship with us and her to try and get it right.”

Beach access repairs

Mayor Medlin said that roughly half of the public beach access walk-overs have been either constructed or repaired, but many areas are still waiting for sand to be delivered and available contractors to do the work.

“Contractors just have too much to do, that’s the problem,” Medlin said, referring to the island’s high demand for construction and repair work since Hurricane Florence struck the coast last September.

According to Surf City Parks and Recreation Director Chad Merritt, 20 of 36 public beach accesses have so far been repaired and opened since Florence. He said the contractor will be completely rebuilding two accesses in the coming weeks, one at the end of Greensboro Avenue and the other at 1700 South Shore Drive.

On Thursday morning Merritt provided a full list of the status of each beach access in Surf City, found below:


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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