Posted on November 15, 2023
A coastal Pender County town may have to pay more for this year’s dredging after survey work revealed many areas in the channel have more shallow depths than anticipated.
Topsail Beach is gearing up for its winter dredging to excavate between 1.6 million and 1.9 million cubic yards of sand from the inlet channels to add to the 4.5-mile beachfront.
Based on the town’s 30-year beach management plan, nourishment is expected roughly every five years, except in cases of major erosion and significant sand loss due to major storm events or shoaling.
The town completed its first nourishment project with 1 million cubic yards of sand in 2011. Last time Topsail’s shoreline received nourishment was in 2020; the town entered into a $24.6 million contract with Weeks Dredging Company for 2.2 million cubic yards. The project was covered from federal and state funds.
A recent review of the inlet depths showed closer to 1.9 cubic yards is needed in 2023. As a result of the increase from 1.6 million cubic yards, it is anticipated to cost $3.5 million more than originally agreed upon. The town signed a contract with Norfolk Dredging Company for $22 million in October, but the project could now come closer to $25.5 million, according to engineering company TI Coastal.
“We’re asking the town be prepared for that — instead of reducing the size of the project, which we’d have to reduce the width of the channels — we go ahead and do the full project,” TI Coastal president Chris Gibson told commissioners Wednesday.
Norfolk Dredging, in conjunction with TI Coastal, found there was 350,000 yards more of shoaling — the act of creating shallower depths — than the firms had anticipated. It increased the need for more sand to be dredged.
The material will be taken from the New Topsail Inlet and channels within Topsail Sound, returning their depths to 18 feet. The excavated sand will be spread uniformly along 23,600 feet of shoreline, Gibson said, adding 10 feet of width from one end of the beach to another.
Erosion is worse in the south end of the island, an area known as The Point, than it is farther north. Therefore, crews will add 160 feet of beach width south of the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier and 140 feet north of the pier up to the Surf City boundary.
The dunes were recently rebuilt in 2020 and won’t be impacted by this year’s dredging. Berms will be reconstructed to 5-feet, which is the natural elevation. A slight slope allows any potential future storm energy to dissipate as waves run onto the beach.
Assistant town manager Christina Burke confirmed to Port City Daily the extra $3.5 million is at the maximum end of additional funds needed.
“We will not know the total cost until the end of the project,” she said, depending on how much sand is actually pulled and laid down.
Topsail Beach pays for its beach renourishment from three different sources: the town’s beach inlet sound fund, state money from the shallow draft inlet fund and FEMA.
If the amount of sand is maxed out at 1.95 million cubic yards, the town could owe $1.8 million, which Burke said would come from the state shallow draft inlet fund or the town’s BIS fund.
Roughly $1.68 million is expected to be awarded to the town from FEMA following damage from Hurricane Isias. It should cover the town’s 25% cost share required by the shallow draft inlet fund. This fund will pay $16.8 million toward Topsail’s beach maintenance project. The town applied in October for the state funding, which should cover 75% of the project.
“We don’t expect them to go all the way to the 1.948 [cubic yards] because that’s the absolute maximum if they got every single yard,” Gibson said.
He recommended requesting additional shallow draft funds, if needed. However, Topsail Beach has to budget for extraneous money to cover shortages.
“Meaning we have to front some money,” Mayor Steve Smith explained at the meeting, “but we’d get them back from the shallow draft fund.”
After the project is completed — scheduled for March 1 — there is a $6 million surplus in the Beach Inlet Sound fund for the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget.
“So, there’s no potential for having to borrow money,” Gibson said. “The money is cash on hand for the town.”
He also explained Topsail Beach does not have to pay extra for mobilization. Norfolk Dredging charged up front $5.4 million for setting up and breaking down machinery and laying pipe, which does not increase if the cubic feet of sand goes up.
Crews will use two dredge machines; by next week, contractors will begin laying pipelines.
Due to water depth, Norfolk Dredging’s machines are not capable of digging Topsail Creek. The firm has subcontracted the work to Southwind Construction to pump sand onto the southern end of the island up to the Sea Vista Motel — a little more than half-a-mile stretch.
This portion of work is anticipated to wrap by Christmas.
The larger machine — Norfolk’s newest 30-inch dredge, Delaware, also the largest in the country — will start digging up sand around Crews Avenue, pump to the north and then fill in the gap from where the smaller one left off. Material will be pulled from the Banks Connector and Cut Through Channel.
Gibson said, based on Norfolk Dredging Company’s prior work in New Jersey, the dredge was able to lay up to 50,000 cubic yards of sand per day.
Per the impending work taking place on Topsail Beach, the town opted in September to not offer beach access permits for vehicles between Oct. 1 and Jan. 15, and for horses between Oct. 1 and March 30. Topsail Beach will forfeit roughly $20,000 in revenue from the decision, but heavy machinery on site led to safety concerns.
Topsail commissioners also approved a resolution in October requiring all dogs be leashed within 3,000 feet of any construction area while the dredging is underway.
Beach access will be closed from Drum Street to the south end from mid-November to Christmas. The pier to Surf City accesses will be closed off mid-November to mid-January and Drum Street to the pier will be closed from mid-January to mid-February.
Dredging is expected to begin Wednesday.