Posted on October 25, 2023
A Norfolk beach community and city planners are in agreement that East Beach is losing sand more quickly than predictions.
But those worried about the rapid pace of beach erosion will have to convince federal leaders to fast track $21 million in federal funding in order to bump up a beach nourishment scheduled for 2026.
“We’re afraid we’re going to lose so much sand … that we need to accelerate 2026 to 2024, soon as we can,” said Colin Kelly, a retired engineer who lives nearby, flanked by some of his neighbors.
In the last three and a half years, about 40 feet of sand at East Beach, the easternmost part of Ocean View Beach, has been lost, according to data collected by the city. At high tide, the water is eating into the dunes and with each storm, like Tropical Storm Ophelia in September, even more sand is lost.
“That was a wake up call for us,” said Jim Casey, president of the Bay Breeze Point Homeowners Association.
The residents worry there will be no beach left east of 28th and 29th streets even in mild weather, and primary dunes will be gone the following year, endangering the secondary dunes before the next slated nourishment in 2026.
Before the end of spring, the city is expected to bring in 14,000 cubic yards of sand. But residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are concerned this Band-Aid is not big enough, and they question whether the timetable for regular, federally-funded renourishment of their section of the beach accurately accounts for erosion. The beach-grade sand will come from the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel project and be added to a roughly 600-foot stretch of the beach between the Little Creek jetty and 27th Bay Street. In total, the effort is anticipated to cost $200,000, according to Chuck Joyner, an engineer with the city of Norfolk.
The city monitors the erosion rates twice annually with the most recent study conducted in the spring and results published in September. The results are still being reviewed and Joyner said the next fall survey will start in several weeks
“We have seen erosion rates that are in excess of what we had anticipated and what the Corps of Engineers had anticipated in their computer modeling,” Joyner said.
And the erosion outpacing the models isn’t just on the eastern end of the beach, but through the entirety of the roughly 7-mile bayfront Norfolk beach strip, according to Joyner. Because of that, the city is also trying to get the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move its timetable for beach nourishment forward.
“That is the ultimate solution that will make the beach whole out there and protect the properties, which is our overall goal,” Joyner said.
Last year, the city completed a new beach access at the end of Bay Point Drive and wants to prevent damage from the declining shoreline. Keeping a healthy dune environment protects the properties nearby, and a healthy shoreline also makes it easier for emergency responders to do their job — and the beach offers a gathering point for the community, according to Joyner.
“What we see from the data we’ve looked at so far, the shoreline location which was supposed to trigger a Corps of Engineers renourishment cycle, we have receded beyond that, particularly in East Ocean View and East Beach,” Joyner said.
After hearing the concerns and input about East Beach, the corps is trying to move the timetable for the nourishment up a year to 2025, according to Richard Klein, the corps’ project engineer. But the main obstacle is a lack of funding.
“Based on subsequent requests and concerns regarding erosion in East Beach, our goal is to accomplish the first renourishment one year sooner, in 2025,” he said in an emailed statement. “However, ability to do so will depend on receipt of funding from Congressional appropriations.”
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, said his office was recently made aware of the issue and will work with the city and corps to get the timetable moved up. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner also said they’ll be connecting with the corps on the issue. The 2026 date for a renourishment was set by the 2017 Hurricane Sandy coastal resiliency program.
Klein said estimates call for $500,000 of federal dollars in this fiscal year and $20.5 million next fiscal year, with matching funds of $9 million needed from the city.
The corps actually provides 100% of the cost of the first mile west of Little Creek jetty, due to the infrastructure’s blocking of the sand that would otherwise migrate naturally into the area, according to Joyner.
The last major beach nourishment for all of Ocean View in 2017 added 1.2 million cubic yards of sand. Last year a portion of the beach in West Ocean View and Willoughby Spit received 260,000 cubic yards of sand. That nourishment project cost $6.5 million and the sand was obtained from the Virginia Port Authority.