The 1,180-mile coastline of Long Island is no different from any other coastal town when it comes to beach erosion. Winter and early spring storms pound the beaches with high wind and heavy surf, which is able to remove hundreds of cubic yards of sand in hours. Couple these storms with a strong tidal flow capable of moving 100,000 to 600,000 cubic yards of sand from the east end of Long Island to the west end of New York City each year and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s no surprise then that the municipalities in this zone fight a constant and costly battle to stabilize their beaches and protect their infrastructure. It’s not an easy fight and it’s never the same battle. Last year is a perfect example.
At the end of the summer, local governments spent thousands of dollars to purchase and install snow fencing on all their beaches in an attempt to trap and hold their sand in place during the raw winter months. A variety of tactics were used. Some municipalities used snow fencing only. Some coupled the snow fence with strategically placed discarded Christmas trees. And so on…
The point is, our communities, spent the money and prepared the best they could. But it was to no avail.
Record-breaking rain and wind pummeled our beaches in October and November (2005) eventually eroding our beaches to the point that our seashore communities were in danger of breaching and flooding.
The only answer was an emergency re-nourishment plan.
Emergency Beach Re-nourishment
Beach re-nourishment programs come in all shapes and sizes. They can be Army Corps of Engineer projects where they pump tons of dredged sand onto your beach. Or they can be privately funded projects that include the building of expensive jetties or groin systems with the goal of protecting what remains of your beach.
These projects can run into the millions of dollars and, with the federal government cutting funding for seacoast erosion projects, most of the time are out of the realm of possibility for local governments. The impact on the future of our beaches, their recreational value and the public’s enjoyment of them can be devastating.
Recently one of our beaches sustained such heavy erosion and breaching (when the ocean breaks through the dune system and starts to flood the area) that an emergency plan of replenishment was approved by state and federal agencies.
Here’s how the project, coordinated by the Town of Hempstead Department of Conservation and Waterways and the town’s Parks Department came together:
1. The local government declared an emergency; and contacted the state and federal agencies and informed them of the emergency. Within days state and federal officials responded with a site inspection and granted permission to establish a temporary barrier of sand. (In this picture you can see the new sand that has been placed to close the breach.) It was determined by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that 6,000 cubic yards of sand could be removed from a section of beach one mile west of the breach.
2. This project was started in late December and was finished within two weeks. All equipment and manpower consisted of employees of the Parks Department and Conservation and Waterways. The Parks Department supplied the pay loaders and Conservation supplied two 15-yard heavy-duty dump trucks.
3. Sand was loaded onto the dump trucks and driven down the beach. (The dump truck in this picture was purchased through the federal government’s equipment surplus program.) The sand was placed with a pay loader and the construction of a new primary dune was completed (a primary dune is known as the most seaward dune to the mean high tide).
4. After the dune was completed and the 6,000 cubic yards of sand are placed, the area was snow fenced to help keep the sand from blowing.
It should be noted that beach projects like this one have certain limitations on the time of year the heavy equipment can be run safely on the beach. In the spring and summer month’s beach work is almost impossible due increased pedestrian traffic and migrating birds such as piping plover, least tern, common tern and roseate tern.
These bird species are federally endangered species and when nesting can they can force the closing off of whole beaches. In the winter month’s, these problems don’t exist.
With the emergency re-nourishment program completed, the Conservation and Waterways department returned its attention to preventative maintenance and a new plan.
Going beyond the employment of sand trapping strategies, the department is now actively planting all of the dunes from Jones Inlet to the border of Queens with a variety of plant life with aggressive root systems (American beach grass, sea rocker, spear scale, sea beach oracle, salt word and seaside spurge), which should stabilize the both the primary and secondary dunes. Plant species such as dusty miller, beach pea, sedge and goldenrod will migrate into dune areas as well.
This project is projected to cost more than $200 million over the next 50 years with the federal government is picking up 65 percent of the total cost and local governments funding the rest. Like all capital improvements, this project has strong advocates for and against it. It also faces the hurdle of being approved by five different local governments.
Jonathan L. Masone has 34 years of experience with public recreation and is deputy commissioner with the Town of Hempstead, N.Y., Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org