Beach feeding along the Outer Banks will be sustainable for the ‘foreseeable future’

On a cold March afternoon, Janie Baldi stands on her second-floor balcony and climbs peaks above the rooftops to gaze at the ocean that disappears into the horizon. She proudly shares that her home was recently remodeled, complete with new blue and white exterior paint.

Baldy and her husband built their home in Buxton in 1987 and moved here permanently during the pandemic.

“We have two daughters who are all grown up and gone now,” Baldy said. “But while they were younger, we’d bring them here for the holidays. Sometimes we’d spend Thanksgiving, Christmas. [and] New Year’s Eve is here.”

Baldi’s house is not on the beachfront – it’s a few homes away from the beach. She says this gives her a little protection when storms come.

“When we feel washed out by a hurricane or a storm, we watch the ocean flowing downward [our street],” Baldi said.

For added protection, several cities along the Outer Banks are working on beach feeding projects this summer, including the towns of Buxton, Duck and Nags Head.

Beach feeding is the process of shoveling sand from the ocean, pumping it ashore, and spreading it with heavy machinery. It aims to address erosion, which is occurring faster and more severely due to climate change.

Dare County officials say beach feeding will remain a sustainable solution to erosion for the “foreseeable future.” But it is unclear exactly how long.

The only tool available in North Carolina [mitigate erosion] It’s beach food, said Deer County Manager Bobby Otten. “As long as there is a source of sand… and as long as we have enough money to get that sand on the beach, we can continue to do that.”

These projects are expected to become more expensive over time. Regardless, residents like Baldi say they will support these renovation efforts.

Beach feeding projects come at a high cost

Since the 1930s, there have been nearly 300 beach-feeding projects on the North Carolina coast, costing more than $700 million, according to the Developed Coastal Study Program at West Carolina University.

Projects along the Outer Banks are expected to begin this summer this month and finish around September, and will cost between $6-18 million.

Until 2004, federal funding covered most of the costs of these projects. Now, local communities have to pay for it themselves, or — in some cases, as after a hurricane — apply for FEMA funding.
In Dare County, beach feeding costs are largely paid for through the county occupancy tax, which is funded by visitors who rent homes or apartments. The county also uses various taxes for municipal property and services.

“We have a financial model that is financed by our occupancy taxes in the tourism industry,” Otton said. “This tax is designed to make sure that we can continue to maintain the projects we’re doing. We don’t start new projects if we can’t afford to sponsor the projects we already have.”

In February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report that predicts that sea level along the US coast will rise 10 to 12 inches in the next 30 years. This equates to sea level rise as in the past 100 years. The report also stated that sea level rise would amplify the effects of coastal erosion.

This may mean that beaches will need to do beach feeding projects more often. Dare County currently implements these projects every five years.

However, these projects are sure to become more expensive over time. In the end, the crews will need to go further into the ocean in order to collect all the required sand. The further the kits are, the more expensive these projects are.

“The models we run increase cost over time,” Otten said. “Similarly, the revenue we make from occupancy tax [should] grow over time. As long as our revenue growth equals or approximates cost growth, we’re fine. “

Docks, seawalls and other solutions

A boardwalk passes over the dunes in Buxton, North Carolina on March 25, 2022. Buxton and nearby Avon will be the site of beach feeding projects this summer and many areas will also build the dunes.

Another potential solution is to build solid structures such as piers, gully or seawalls. These structures are used in places like Florida and Virginia. In 2003, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law prohibiting large-scale construction of these structures.

Rob Young, director of the Developed Beach Study Program, explained that solid structures won’t help address beach erosion in North Carolina.

“If you build seawalls, gullys, and jetties on the beach, you still have to feed the beach,” Young said. “That’s because rigid structures are designed to protect property. They are not designed to protect a beach.”

Young adds that solid structures are a temporary solution, as is feeding beaches. Barrier islands such as the Outer Banks are constantly moving, and over long periods of time migrate towards the mainland.
Young believes that the only reasonable long-term solution is an orbital retreat.

“Managed retreat means that instead of spending a lot of money, time and resources trying to keep the shoreline in place everywhere, we find a way in those places where the erosion is the worst, where there are houses that are constantly flushing the shore because of the erosion and we find a way to move it,” Young said. “So that you don’t spend your resources on property which is always a headache. This allows you to spend your money on parts of your community that are more sustainable in the long run.”

It often varies. He said managed withdrawal is simply not an option.

“You wouldn’t like it if your county commissioner [showed up] At your house, Outten said, “Hey guys, I’m sorry, but you have to pack up and get moving.” “This is not a defensible solution. We have to find ways to live with nature, protect the things we value and mitigate the impacts as much as possible.”

This leaves beach feeding as the only option for coastal communities.

Young agrees that shore feeding is a viable solution for offshore banks in the short term.

“I think it would be a very practical solution for them,” Young said. “I wouldn’t say for the foreseeable future because I think that depends on how far in the future you’re willing to expect.” “There will come a time when it will be very difficult and very expensive for them to keep that shoreline in place. The question is simply whether that will happen 15 years from now, or 30 years from now. Who knows?”

Residents’ reactions

Dare County held an information meeting in Buxton in March for residents to learn more about their upcoming beach feeding projects. While many residents had questions and concerns, there was still overwhelming support for the project.

Paul and Maria Linden were a few dozen people who attended the meeting. The couple owns a home in Avon, but they live in Greensboro.

Basswood says they’ve dreamed of owning a home in the Outer Banks for decades. They finally bought one in October 2020, despite the costs and risks.

When we bought [the house]Maria Linden said, “Of course we were a little nervous to find out what’s going on here. But I’m happy [Dare County is] be proactive [about] He. She. To be able to make this dream come true and have family vacations here… It has been amazing.”

Paul Linden added: “Thinking of storms is a constant concern…because they are a very vulnerable chain of islands.” “But we’ve always wanted a place on the beach and decided not to get any younger.

“I knew I was going to be taxed. Of course, I’m not really excited about it. But I understand that in order to protect… the islands are here, something needs to be done.”

All residents and homeowners who spoke to WUNC had the same sentiment: They will continue to support beach feeding projects, despite the cost, because they believe it is worth it.

This is my life. This is my home,” said Baldy, a Buxton resident. “My kids grew up here, basically, and they’re starting to have kids.

“I’m going to die someday. So I would like to know that this is a place my family can come and go on and enjoy like we’ve done for so many years. So yes, I will support the continued efforts.”

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