Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Surf City acknowledges recent beach push exposes temporary dunes to erosion

A bulldozer pushes sand up the beach near the 1200 block of South Shore Drive in early March. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Town of Surf City)
A bulldozer pushes sand up the beach near the 1200 block of South Shore Drive last month. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Town of Surf City)

Surf City’s ‘beach push’ helped comfort beachfront property owners, but did little to nothing in terms of securing the beach long-term, experts say

SURF CITY — Town Manager Ashley Loftis said the Council’s recent funding of a “beach push” — where bulldozers scrape sand from the lower parts of the beach upward to create temporary dunes — is an operation that effectively lowers the beach profile and exposes the dunes to erosion.

Two beach engineers have recently described the beach push as something that provides an emotional benefit for property owners but does little to improve the risk of those properties to future storms or enhance the dune system in the long-term.

It is our understanding that it is not as beneficial as completing a full nourishment project,” Loftis said. “It is more of a short-term solution, not long-term. Doing a beach push lowers the beach profile thus allowing waves to break closer to the dunes and creating erosion.”

RELATED: Coastal erosion specialist on Surf City’s $300,000 beach push: ‘emotional benefit’ but little improvement

In February the Surf City Council approved an additional $300,000 — on top of $5 million already approved to haul in sand from an external source — to finance a beach push for properties not marked as “imminently critical” areas by the town’s contracted beach engineering firm, TI Coastal Services. Councilmembers Jeremy Shugarts and Teresa Batts opposed the spending legislation and argued for an all-out beach push in order to preserve the $5 million for long-term beach restoration work slated to begin next spring.

‘Emotional benefit’

TI Coastal’s Chris Gibson called the beach push a “stop-the-bleeding approach” that provides an emotional benefit to property owners but does nothing to eliminate the problem or make it more manageable in the long-term.

“With a beach scrape you feel better because you have some dune up front,” Gibson said. “But at the same time, you lowered the beach profile so more energy is able to get on that dune.”

He said a beach push steepens the slope without adding any sand to the dune system, and the profile of the pushed sand is a more coarse grain than wind-blown sand found on the dune system.

Last week coastal erosion specialist Spencer Rogers agreed with Gibson.

“Gibson’s description — that it was an emotional benefit — that’s a pretty good description. It makes people feel better; they do better and it looks better, but in terms of significant improvement of the risk to their property or their building, there’s usually little or no significant improvement,” Rogers said.

Loftis confirmed that the decision to pay for the beach push, initially estimated at $300,000 based on similar operations in the past, was in response to residents’ concerns of how eroded dunes in areas not marked “critically imminent” could impact their properties. She said Gibson was the only expert the town consulted with before making the decision.

Making sure that everyone has some sort of coverage before the hurricane season was the main concern for Council,” Loftis said.

The beach push was completed on March 15 at a cost of $73,500, according to Loftis, because the contractor chosen by the town was “able to do it for a much cheaper price.”

In late March, a northeaster hit Topsail Island during a full moon, causing high tides and strong waves to wash away some of the dunes recently built as part of the sand-haul and beach push projects.

Asked if the town would consider beach pushes in the future, Loftis said that it would not.

“We are planning to start our private nourishment project in Spring 2020,” Loftis said. “Completing this project will be a long lasting solution to our beach needs. Once this is complete, we will no longer need to push.”

Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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