VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Reinforcing nearly 75% of the oceanfront in roughly two months, the Virginia Beach Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project has come to a halt.
In late June, the city of Virginia Beach and Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the placement of approximately 1.4 million cubic yards of sand – a periodic construction that has prevented more than $450 million in coastal-infrastructure damage according to project management.
The Norfolk District engineering operation was established to create a better place to work and live for the local beach community – including marine life.
Will brake for turtles
Due to a district-imposed time-of-year restriction during peak sea-turtle migration season, sand-borrow operations halted Sunday and may resume in mid-November.
Multiple measures have been taken to protect turtles during the project.
National Marine Fisheries Service-approved endangered-species observers are aboard the dredge 24/7 to serve as lookout and inspect dredge loads. The observers may launch a work-stop order upon spotting specific species. Also, the dredge itself is subject to speed restrictions.
On the shore, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-approved endangered species observers patrol beach placement areas throughout the night in search a sea turtles or their nests. If found, sand placement discontinues.
“Nest disturbances are strictly prohibited and punishable by law,” said Shannon Reinheimer, Norfolk District environmental scientist. “If a sea turtle or a nest is found within the project area, sand placement is stopped until coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines the safest path for that nest.
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes the call whether to relocate the nest or leave the nest and avoid the area. Sand is never allowed to be placed on top of or around a known sea-turtle nest.”
While the coastal-community benefits are significant, officials say, some residents may witness the drudgery required to maintain a safe shoreline.
North End to prep for pipes, pumping
Dredging and sand-placement crews may remobilize near 49th Street after the restriction period ends. Having completed the construction area’s southern half, the shoreline north of approximately 50th Street is the final push.
Heavy machinery, slurry pumping, shoreline pipe. Residents and tourists in the North End can expect the same backdrop seen by those in the completed areas.
“What we need to keep in mind is that this project is critical if we want to live in a coastal area,” said Kristin Mazur, district project manager. “Yes, there are going to be degrees of impact on residents during this project: areas of the beach will be closed off during active work; there will be a pipe that remains on the shoreline throughout the project; crews will continue to work around-the-clock, and reaching the shore may require using access ramps over the pipe.”
Norfolk District will continue to inform the public on progress and updates using its social media platforms, she added.
'Our goal has been unwavering from the start'
While the project’s contract extends to Feb. 23, it’s hopeful all construction will be concluded by year’s end, according to James Campbell, district contracting officer representative.
“We, of course, want the project to run as smoothly as possible and finish by the end of the year,” Campbell said. “But, we need to be realists here and recognize there are factors outside our control that may affect the rate of completion.”
Bad weather conditions, equipment malfunction and dredge availability are all items that could push work into the New Year.
In either case, the project’s end result is the same.
“Our goal has been unwavering from the start — we’ll do what needs to be done to reduce hurricane and storm damage to the infrastructure of the oceanfront,” Mazur said. “We didn’t have an option in the timing of the project; we won’t compromise the expertise of the contractor doing the work; but, we will continue to work with our partners to deliver this engineering solution to help safeguard the community.”
The project, slated to widen the beach from 15th to 70th streets, has been moving north and cordoning off about two blocks at a time. With only small portions of the beach inaccessible, the work may impact up to 20 streets at a time due to the shoreline pipe required for sand placement.