Completed in 2001, the Virginia Beach Hurricane Protection System is comprised of three parts: A widened 100 foot beach at 9-feet above sea level with a gradual slope to sea level, seawall/sand dune system, and an intricate network of storm drains and pump stations to remove water from upland areas.
Throughout its history the project has prevented more than $450 million in damage costs during coastal storm events. The beach section of the project is expected to erode away as it takes the initial impacts of wave action and storm surge, which means periodically sand needs to be placed back on the beach to keep its level of protection adequate.
The project is scheduled to begin sand renourishment operations around June 20, at 15th street and move northward at about a block a day. Operations are scheduled to end by August 31. Crews will be placing approximately 1.4 million cubic yards of sand on the beach, widening it and raising it to 9 feet above sea-level, back to it's original width and height.
During the last renourishment event in 2012, contractors added 1.25 million cubic yards of sand from 15th to 70th Streets. The replenishment builds on the Virginia Beach erosion control and hurricane protection project completed by the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2002.
Contractors extended the beach, which was 150 to 280 feet wide, to as much as 300 feet. Additionally, the contractors renourished the beach berm, providing a minimum elevation of 8.5 feet and a minimum crest width of 100 feet.
City officials said the original 2002 project has more than recouped its original costs over the years through damage-prevention from tropical storms surges and nor’easters that have hit the Commonwealth’s coastline at least a dozen times.
This is a 65% federally authorized and funded project, including design, construction and administration costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the beach open?
Yes! The beach at the oceanfront remains open during the renourishment project. Crews will only be sectioning off 500-1,000-foot spans, or about the equivalent of a city block, as they widen and raise portions of the beach. There will be a 30–50 foot corridor of beach, between the boardwalk and where the work is taking place, open for beachgoers to walk around the renourishment activities.
What are the permitted working hours?
Crews will be operating 24/7 to get the work done as fast as possible. They will try to limit the backing up of heavy equipment, (and subsequent backup alarms), at night to help keep noise levels to a minimum. Impacts directly behind a hotel/property shouldn’t last longer than a day and a half, depending on weather and other factors.
What can be done about the backup alarms on machinery?
The backup alarms are necessary for the safety of the work crews and other individuals in the area. They are a safety device required by federal law to protect people from being hit by heavy equipment when the driver’s view is obstructed directly behind them.
When was beach renourishment last completed in Virginia Beach?
We completed the last replenishment cycle in August 2013, and it cost $11.95 million with 1.25 million cubic yards of sand placed on the beach.
Why did it take so long in between beach-renourishment dates?
The city of Virginia Beach actively monitors and surveys the beach to make sure it is at the appropriate height and width for the project’s expected level of protection. Renourishment takes place every five to seven years.
What is the project’s scope and how much is it costing the taxpayer?
Norfolk District has awarded the Virginia Beach Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project renourishment contract to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company of Oak Brook, Illinois. The bid of $22.64 million includes the placement of 1.4 million cubic yards of sand from 15th Street to 70th Street.
When will the beach renourishment begin/be completed?
We expect the contractor to begin sand-placement activities in mid-June, starting at 15th Street and progressing north to finish up at 70th street by Aug. 31.
What kind of dredge will be used and how will this affect endangered species such as loggerhead turtles?
The contractor will use multiple hopper dredges to perform the work. A visual observer will be on board each vessel to monitor for sea turtle activities and observe if any are hurt or killed during dredging activities. We have a dredging restriction in place from Sept. 1 to Nov. 14 due to a higher presence of sea turtles, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The dredges are also equipped with specially designed deflector heads to help limit them from hurting turtles.
What can people along the waterfront expect to see as the project goes along?
Beachgoers can expect to see the hopper dredge just offshore hooking up a submerged pipeline, which runs from just off the beach up onto it and connects to a shore pipeline, which runs laterally along the dry beach. Sand is pumped up to the shore through the pipeline and discharged as a water/sand slurry mixture on the beach. Bulldozers push the sand into place to meet the designed construction template.
Approximately how much sand will be placed on the beach?
This current project looks to place about 1.4 million cubic yards of high-quality sand on the beach.
Where is the sand coming from and how does it get to the beach?
Sand is mined from the Thimble Shoals and Atlantic in/outbound navigation channels in the Atlantic Ocean. A hopper dredge collects the sand from the ocean floor and stores it on board the vessel. The dredge then navigates to a submerged pipeline just offshore and hooks up to it. The vessel pumps the sand through the pipeline up to the shore, where it’s discharged as a water/sand mixture on the beach. Bulldozers push the sand into place to meet the designed construction template.
We’ve heard the sand being place could smell once it’s placed. Is that true/accurate?
Newly placed sand at first often appears quite dark, and in some cases, it may have organic material mixed in. This may cause a slight “fishy” smell. Within a few days, however, the sun oxidizes the non-sandy material. The beach eventually turns as light as it was before the project, and the smell quickly subsides.
What controls are in place to ensure the sand being placed on the beach is acceptable?
Prior to dredging, we have sampled the areas where sand is being dredged to make sure it is the right granular size, color and matches the existing composition currently on the beach. The borrow area has been used multiple times for not only the oceanfront project, but also the Willoughby and Vicinity Project, and we have high confidence the sand matches what is currently on the beach.
What environmental concerns are under consideration for a dredging project this large?
We have gone through an extensive environmental permitting process and continue to coordinate with state and other federal agencies to ensure our dredging activities are performed within proper regulations.
What kind of guarantees can the Corps provide about the safety of residents living near the beach if a hurricane makes landfall in the Hampton Roads area?
All storms are different, and while we cannot guarantee there will be no damage incurred during an event, we can say the risks of receiving it from coastal-storm flooding has been reduced by this project.
We’ve had several bad tropical storms and hurricanes since the last renourishment – can you tell us how the beach held up? Over the lifetime of the project, the beach-protection measures proved highly valuable. We have had no reports of building or infrastructure damage along the oceanfront due to coastal or street flooding. The project has prevented over $550 million in storm damage along the oceanfront.
In the end, what will residents and tourists see at the oceanfront?
A wide, sandy beach for enjoyment and recreation throughout the year.