Nags Head beach build

Bulldozers push around sand at the south end of Nags Head as part of a $43 million beach widening project.

NAGS HEAD, N.C.

Aaron Allen and his family exited their beach house on Seagull Drive with intentions of getting to the surf.

He, his wife and children in shorts and sandals would have to maneuver their way through dune vegetation that might include sand spurs to get around bulldozers pushing mounds of sand.

No problem, Allen said. More sand on the beach is great.

"Having a house on the ocean, we're glad to see it," he said.

Nags Head began on May 1 a $43 million beach nourishment project to pump onto 10 miles of beach about four million cubic yards of sand, nearly 300,000 dump truck loads. The work will continue over the next three or four months.

The bill will be paid through three sources: $17 million from the town, $9.8 million from Dare County's beach nourishment fund and $16.2 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said town engineer David Ryan. FEMA is pitching in since Hurricane Matthew caused much of the sand loss, he said. The total includes $6.4 million for engineering, surveying, sand fencing and other costs.

The town widened its beaches for the first time ever just eight years ago. Storms such as Matthew washed away two thirds of the oceanfront. At the south end of town, all of the fill was gone. Now, the town has to do it again.

Whatever the dynamics are — more and bigger storms, sea level rise, climate change, too many houses and pavement or just the natural dynamics of barrier islands — the town's long range plans now include reloading its beaches with sand about every eight years.

Nags Head isn't the only place that needs a regular sand refill. In the last five years, beaches were widened in Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Rodanthe and Buxton. Counting Nags Head's 2011 project and this year's work, Outer Banks beaches will have been expanded over 33 miles at a cost of more than $160 million.

But the luxury of restoring the beach whenever the surf crashes near the long line of oceanfront homes may not always be available, said Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon.

So far, county and town tax revenues generate enough to keep rebuilding the shoreline in front of all the communities every six to eight years, Cahoon said. But the erosion rate and tax revenues could change.

"We're going to renourish as we can until we can't," he said. "That's what we will do. I do think that at some point out there it will get difficult. One day, a future board is going to have to make a hard call."

Then again, maybe through technology or some other discovery, the cost of beach nourishment could go down similar to what fracking did for oil production, Cahoon said.

The new Nags Head project will progress night and day in segments through the summer, Ryan said.

Dredges about two miles offshore will extract matching sand and pump it to the beach where bulldozers can push it into place. The work had covered about a mile at the south end of town as of Tuesday and will commence at the north end.

Dredging during the tourism season is more inconvenient but safer for crews and less likely to be stalled by bad weather, according the Town of Nags Head website.

New loads of sand are a welcome sight despite the noise and inconvenience, said Don Hole, an employee at Outer Banks Fishing Pier at the southern part of Nags Head, where the erosion is the worst.

Bulldozers will soon be rumbling around the pier.

"We're ready for it," Hole said.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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