A $36 million beach project performed last summer in Nags Head, N.C., widened the town’s beach profile anywhere from 50 feet to 150 feet. Much of that beach profile includes sand that can’t be seen by the naked eye, including large sandbars under water that help protect the shore.
For years, the narrow shoreline and beach profile at Nags Head worried residents, homeowners and business owners. Whenever a winter storm, let alone a hurricane, churned by, it devastated the slim shoreline and caused millions of dollars in damages.
But in summer 2011, the town of Nags Head undertook a project funded through town and county dollars (federal funds were not made available for the project) that brought up to 4.6 million cubic yards of sand to the shoreline. The project was expected to provide protection for the town for up to 10 years and did its job in October when Superstorm Sandy passed through.
The beach width of the shoreline, officials say, barely changed, partly because much of the sand that was brought in sits under water and acts as a buffer.
After Sandy, repairs to Nags Head beach accesses cost $93, town officials reported. To put that in perspective, after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, damage to Nags Head accesses amounted to $300,000 to $400,000.
Overall, damage to homes throughout the town after Sandy added up to about $413,000, said Planning and Development Director Elizabeth Teague. All of it was minor — mostly water in ground-floor enclosures.
Commercial damage in Nags Head was estimated at $202,000 to 11 properties. The only major damage — about $30,000 worth — was next door to the Nags Head Fishing Pier, where the surf blew out a bulkhead. Nearby communities that didn’t perform a major beach project didn’t fare as well.
Kitty Hawk, N.C., is still in cleanup mode after Sandy flattened a dune line north of a restaurant, sending water two blocks west and across a highway. A section of U.S. 158 was closed for two days, and N.C. 12, the beach road, was buried in sand; asphalt in some places began crumbling.
A Nags Head maintenance plan submitted to FEMA calls for re-nourishing the beach after five years or a 50% loss of new sand, whichever comes later. The real test will be how the beach holds up over at least five years.
Longboat Key Public Works Director Juan Florensa called the Nags Head beach project a “mammoth” one that was needed to bolster a shoreline that wasn’t providing much beach for its residents.
“Believe it or not, we have a very similar beach profile and have the same sandbar defense under water,” Florensa said. “Two-thirds of the sand we have in front of our island is under water and protecting this island.”
Florensa said a massive beach project like the one in Nags Head isn’t needed here, because the town performed a similar project years ago.
The town of Longboat Key placed 1.6 million cubic yards of sand island-wide for its last major beach project in 2005-06. And in summer 2013, the town is only expected to put down 300,000 cubic yards of sand because sand is holding steady along the majority of the island’s coastline.
“We do the same thing here, our beach is just already very well protected and we don’t need as much sand,” Florensa said. “We really only have the north end to be concerned about, but that’s a different erosion animal that we’re working on.”