Norfolk beach expansion combats sea-level rise

Norfolk District Public Affairs Office
Published April 3, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. – Mayor Paul Fraim and other city of Norfolk leaders joined Col. Paul Olsen, Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander, along Ocean View Beach to sign a historic project partnership agreement here March 30, 2015.

The agreement lays the foundation for construction of a coastal storm damage reduction project to protect the Willoughby and Ocean View neighborhoods of Norfolk.    

The project is a first in the city to address sea-level rise, and according to Robert Pretlow, a Norfolk District project manager, these sections of the city are particularly vulnerable during storm events.

“The northern shoreline of Norfolk, Willoughby Spit and Ocean View is located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, so what we have is an area that is susceptible to wave damage from many different directions and the beach is subject erosion,” Pretlow said. “So when we get Nor’easters and hurricane forces, the wave attack damages the beaches as well.

The recently released North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive study identified Norfolk as an area of high risk in regard to sea-level rise. 

“The sea-level rise fight starts here, right now, and I am really proud to be a part of it,” Olsen said.

According to Fraim, the project is a serious commitment by the city to address the threat of rising waters.

“This marks Norfolk’s largest single investment to date in our beaches, but it is a worthy effort and also helps address our risks and vulnerabilities as identified in our coastal resiliency plan,” Fraim said.

Seven miles of coastline will receive sand at an initial cost of around $18.5 million.

“The project will widen the recreational area by 60 feet, enhancing residents’  and visitors’ beach experience,” Fraim said.  “It will also protect valuable property from coastal storms and erosion.”

Using sand as the primary beach material is cost-effective and can be adjusted to future sea levels, Pretlow said.

“This is a project that will take place over 50 years, meaning we will come back on an estimated nine years cycle to put more sand on the beach, to rebuild or replace the existing beach berm,” Pretlow said.  “We can adjust for sea-level rise by increasing the height of that berm at some point during the replenishment cycles as needed.”

Initial construction on the project will begin in November and last six months during the winter, which allows project construction to avoid nesting-turtle season and tourist season in the area.