WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – More than 3 million cubic yards of newly deposited sand is protecting the launch pads and critical infrastructure at NASA’s flight facility here.
Three dredges from Great Lakes Dredge and Dock created the buffer between the structures on the island and the Atlantic Ocean.
According to Paul Bull, a NASA project manager, the buffer is needed to ensure the Atlantic Ocean didn’t wash away this critical piece of land.
“Anytime we would have a moderate storm, we would get a lot of overwash and it would result in a lot of maintenance work to get everything in working order so we can continue the mission at Wallops,” Bull said.
NASA Wallops Island, one of the oldest launch sites in the world, is located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore near the mouth of the Chincoteague Inlet in an area where their shoreline erodes in two different directions.
“Wallops has historically lost sand, and their launch ranges were right there at the spot where this nodal point exists,” said Gregg Williams, Norfolk District geospatial section chief.
Before contractors pumped the first grain of sand onto the eroded beach, multiple partnerships were formed: a three-party agreement was signed between NASA, lead agency for environmental concerns; the Norfolk District, who handled the design and construction oversight work; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which has responsibility for the offshore shoals along the Atlantic Intercontinental Shelf from which the sand was dredged.
“We[the three agencies] did a lot of preplanning; brought in environmental stakeholders, property owners, fisheries, all kinds of people to take a look at the project from a bunch of different angles before we put anything down on paper to make sure we had all bases covered,” Williams said.
“These efforts paid off in arriving at a broad based consensus on the final designs constructed along the shore,” said George Mears, Norfolk District project manager.
With the physical construction complete the next phase involves installation of sand fencing followed by native beach grasses to help hold the new dunes in place. The sand fencing start this week and the planting activity will occur between October and early spring in order to give the new plants a better chance to thrive.
Bull said the people at NASA couldn’t be happier with the project and already see the results.
“The project is doing what it was advertised to do, which is to protect Wallops,” Bull said.
The Norfolk District will continue to monitor the completed beach to ensure it continues to offer the level protection needed.
Though versed in large shoreline protection projects like the Virginia Beach Hurricane Protection Project, this marks the first time the district has assisted NASA with this type of project.