Monday, April 15, 2024

NHC sends letter to contractor citing deficiencies, lack of progress on Mason Inlet project

New Hanover County sent a letter to contractor Ahtna Marine & Construction Company expressing concerns about the lack of progress on the Mason Inlet Relocation Preservation project. (Courtesy Layton Bedsole/New Hanover County)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The most recent round of a decades-long project to maintain an inlet on the North End of Wrightsville Beach has faced delays, but the county remains hopeful it will complete by the March 31 deadline.

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On Feb. 25, New Hanover County and engineering firm Gahagan and Bryant Associates sent a letter to Wesly Gammons of Ahtna Marine & Construction Company expressing concerns about contract deficiencies and lack of adequate progress on the Mason Inlet maintenance project. Ahtna is providing dredging services, which excavates nearby sand to infill the inlet. 

Deficiencies listed in the letter include the late date of initiation, failure to show adequate dredging and beach placement progress, as well as placing material in an unauthorized area,and incomplete or sporadic updates on progress. The latter included improperly checking in with the subcontractor on fill elevations and grades.

The letter also stated Ahtna needed more equipment and operators to manage beachfill, particularly during evening crew shifts. 

Port City Daily reached out to Ahtna to ask the reason for the delay and how the firm will address the county’s concerns but did not hear back by press.

Shore protection coordinator Layton Bedsole told Port City Daily the county had been discussing the issue for a while and needed to send the letter for contractual purposes.

“They were working hard to make the progress as soon as they can,” he said.

The project was expected to wrap by March 31, a deadline initiated for marine life protection and particularly to safeguard turtles during nesting season. Bedsole cited Ahtna’s delayed initiation of the project as a central issue. The letter states the firm’s October 24, 2023 contract submittal scheduled dredging to commence on November 25, but it did not begin until 60 days later on January 24, 2024.

He said the county is calculating how much of Ahtna’s dredged material took place outside of the authorized area surveyed by Gahagan and Bryant Associates; he noted the contractor will not be paid for work external to the project template but didn’t believe it was a large amount.

The project is important to protect public and private infrastructure. Mason Inlet has drifted southward in the last 30 years. Amid concerns the inlet was causing erosion and threatening property on the North End of Wrightsville Beach, the county initiated a project in 2002 to relocate it approximately 3,000 feet above its previous location.

Approximately every five years New Hanover County assesses the cost of maintaining Mason’s Inlet. Commissioners approved the most recent assessment at its Nov. 20 meeting, which found the cost from August 1, 2018 to August 31, 2023 totaled $4,069,039.

The Mason Inlet Preservation Group — a group of about 1,000 property owners on Figure Eight island and at the North End of Wrightsville Beach — covers operational and maintenance costs. The November assessment found Figure Eight property owners needed to contribute $2,281,521 of the sum and Wrightsville Beach property owners would contribute $1,787,518. 

Gahagan and Bryant Associates is providing design, surveying, planning, and management services for the 2023-2024 Mason Inlet effort for $300,000. Ahtna’s $6.45-million contract includes mobilization, demobilization, and dredging services.

UNCW geography professor Roger Shew told Port City Daily he believed the Mason Inlet relocation project has successfully preserved property and maintained water exchange between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. He noted it has been done without harming local wildlife, as the 2002 relocation agreed it would maintain a bird sanctuary in the North End, still in place.

However, Shew expressed concern the most recent project would not be able to finish by March 31 at its current pace.

“Turtle nesting season is generally for the May to November time frame but for protection of these turtles, which are both threatened and endangered, as well as other species such as Atlantic Sturgeon, which is also endangered, you want to avoid activity during this time,” he said. “We have been having really good turtle nest numbers over the last five years. Removal of equipment and completion of sand placement should be done before that time.”

The letter stated Ahtna needed to submit documentation showing they had addressed contract deficiencies within five calendar days, by March 1; Bedsole said he had not received an update yet but was in communication with the contractor.

“What I hope will happen is that they’ll do their best to meet and answer our questions,” he said.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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