VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Contractors smoothed out the last of the sand on the beach here Aug. 1, completing a beach renourishment project that widened the buffer between punishing storm surge and the city’s homes, businesses and tourist attractions.
The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the city of Virginia Beach to complete the $11.95 million Virginia Beach Shoreline Protection and Beach Renourishment Project, which added more than 1.4 million cubic yards of ocean sand along the city’s public beachfront from 17th to 70th streets.
The work marked the first beach renourishment cycle since the initial construction of the Virginia Beach Erosion Control and Hurricane Protection Project was completed in 2001.
“The hurricane protection project has proven invaluable to the resort area: it has prevented an estimated $200 million in flood damages just during Hurricanes Isabel in 2003 and Irene in 2011,” Virginia Beach Mayor William D. Sessoms, Jr., said. “This project continues to protect one of our economic drivers – tourism – and the thousands of jobs associated with it.”
The renourishment was needed: during the 2012 hurricane season, several storms pounded local shorelines. Hurricane Sandy, which passed Virginia Beach on its way to devastating the Northeast, scooped 190,000 cubic yards of sand from the Oceanfront.
Renourishment work built up the beach berm to a minimum elevation of 8.5 feet, and a minimum crest width of 100 feet.
At the Oceanfront, that means the 1,440,250 cubic yards of new sand brings the beach to at least 300 feet wide at mid-tide, and in some places, that will be three times its former width, said Phil Roehrs, the city’s water resources engineer.
“We also owe our thanks to Virginia Senator Mark Warner and Congressman Scott Rigell for their persistent efforts in helping us move this project along through the bureaucratic bottleneck,” Mayor Sessoms said. “Without their help, the timeline that is so crucial in these types of projects would have been seriously jeopardized. It is also a great example of partnering between Virginia Beach and the federal government.”
The federal investment for this renourishment cycle was $8.9 million, or 65 percent of the total project cost, including design, construction and administration costs. Norfolk District obtained additional funding for the Oceanfront renourishment through Sandy FCCE, Flood Control and Coastal Emergency funds, which allowed the district to add 190,000 cubic yards of sand, said Herman Wine, Corps project manager.
Norfolk District awarded the project contract to Weeks Marine of Camden N.J., the same contractor that performed the original beach renourishment for the erosion control and hurricane protection project. Weeks Marine began work in December to avoid endangering nesting birds and turtles.
Renourishment material was dredged from authorized offshore areas near the project site in the Thimble Shoal and Atlantic Ocean federal channels.
“I’ve been working these beachfront renourishment projects up and down the Eastern Seaboard for decades, and most of them require sand replenishment about every three to four years,” said Paul Stewart, project manager for Weeks Marine. “Coastal engineers need to come here and study the design and construction of this project. It’s definitely a national model for how to build a smart beach erosion control and hurricane protection system that lasts.”
Since 1984, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has provided an Annual Flood Damage Reduction Report to Congress, assessing flood damages nationally. Data is compiled over a 10-year average period, and reflects how much flood damage reduction is prevented in dollars by previous flood control measures. The 2011 report revealed: “Every $1 invested in flood damage reduction prevents nearly $8 in damages caused by flooding.”
The original $143 million Virginia Beach Erosion Control and Hurricane Protection Project spanned six miles of beachfront and featured an integrated seawall and boardwalk, a combination bike and pedestrian pathway, a wider and higher beach berm, enhanced vegetated dune system, interior drainage improvements, two storm-water pumping stations, and included 4 million cubic yards of beachfront sand renourishment.
In January, Maurice and Wanda Plourde of Newington, Conn., were vacationing in Virginia Beach, taking an early morning stroll down the city’s beachfront boardwalk and checking out the Corps’ beach renourishment project.
The Plourdes said some of their friends and neighbors were affected by Hurricane Sandy, and that they understood the need for beach renourishment.
“As long as people choose to live near the shore, these type projects may save lives and prevent major damages to public and private property, and that’s a good thing,” the Plourdes said. “You can pay up-front for a little peace of mind or a lot more to start all over.”