The 300-foot floating dredge barge “Illinois,” will begin pumping sand onto the beaches of Bridgehampton on Thursday morning, the start of what is to be one of the largest beach nourishment projects ever undertaken on the South Fork and the first to be funded almost entirely privately by oceanfront homeowners.
Over the next three months, the Illinois will pump more than 3 million tons of sand onto the shoreline along 6 miles of beach in Water Mill, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, doubling the width of the dry beach, providing sand that will help natural dunes rebuild and creating a more gradual slope below the surface of the water to dampen the erosive effects of storm-driven waves.
The first phase of the project starts this week, after four weeks of delays while the Illinois completed a similar project at Coney Island and then four days lost to rough seas this week. When the operation gets underway, a slurry of sea water and sand scoured from so-called “borrow areas” on the ocean floor a mile offshore will be pumped ashore. It will be deposited into the near-shore littoral zone starting near Mecox Beach and slowly moving west to Flying Point, the western end of the project reach, over the next two weeks.
From there, the pumping operation, conducted by crews from Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, will move gradually eastward, concluding at the Southampton-East Hampton Town line sometime before the new year.
The spot where the sand is pumped ashore will be moved two times as the Illinois hops between the three designated borrow areas, each about 1 mile offshore.
The Illinois employs a cutter-head dredge at the end of its steel boom, a giant drill-like implement that grinds into the ocean floor and vacuums up the sand it cuts loose, thrusting it through a partially floating and partially submerged pipeline to the landing point on the shoreline.
Each borrow area will be excavated down 7 feet, the depth where the sand vacuumed up is of the same coarse grade as along the shoreline and is not mixed with mud or organic material from the seabed. The three borrow areas total about 1,200 acres, or 1.8 square-miles, of ocean bottom.
Equipment for the shoreline operations will be staged at Scott Cameron Beach and Mecox Beach for the next several weeks. Town officials said that they will keep the beach parking areas accessible to the public as much as possible but that it may be necessary to close off one of the lots at times when a high volume of equipment is onsite. Town Parks and Recreation Superintendent Chris Bean told officials from the dredging company that the town has not had problems in the past with public access near dredging projects.
“We’ve done this several times at Pikes [Beach in Westhampton] over the last few years and it’s never been a problem,” Mr. Bean said in a meeting of town officials and project managers at Town Hall on Tuesday morning. “People that are going to the beach this time of year are pretty savvy, they know what to stay away from and where it’s okay to go.”
Once sand pumping is underway, there will be a 1,000-foot wide zone that is off-limits on either side of the pumping machines. Where possible, project manager Jared LeFranc said on Tuesday, a public access corridor will be kept open along the inland edge of the beaches. In most areas, he guessed, the beach is wide enough that there will be a broad section between the dunes and where the equipment is working.
“The active work area will be the only place the beach is closed,” Mr. LeFranc said.
The dredge will work 24-hours a day, seven days a week, as long as weather permits. Dredging will have to be halted is seas in the borrow areas reach 5 feet in height, as they did early this week. If seas reach 8 feet, the dredge will have to leave the borrow area and return to the shelter of Shinnecock Bay, primarily because crews will not be able to reach the barge through Shinnecock Inlet. If a very strong storm, on the magnitude of a hurricane, were to approach the area, the Illinois would be taken around Montauk Point into Gardiners Bay.
The project’s official end date is January 15, but the dredging itself is to be concluded by December 31, according to the contract with Great Lakes, unless there are severe, extended weather delays.
The Great Lakes bid between $19.1 million and $19.4 million for the 2.1 million-cubic-yard project minimum, or $7.65 per cubic yard. With mobilization and project design costs, the total cost is to be about $26 million.
The town, which owns five properties in the project area, will contribute $1.5 million from park district fees to the cost of the work. The rest will be borrowed by the town and repaid over the next 10 years with taxes levied on the 122 oceanfront property owners within the project area. Those homeowners gave broad approval to the project, and the tax levy, in a referendum last February.
It was the homeowners themselves who spurred the project, after creating the two special Beach Erosion Control Districts that allow the town to tax them for the beach rebuilding work. The nourishment effort is being watched closely in other communities where chronic beach erosion has threatened oceanfront homes with destruction during severe storms. Homeowners in Quogue, Wainscott and West Hampton Dunes have discussed the possibility of forming their own such erosion control districts to fund future beach nourishment projects.
The project is the second largest beach nourishment ever undertaken on the South Fork, after the gargantuan reconstruction of the barrier beach in what is now West Hampton Dunes in 1995. Since that time, there have been numerous smaller nourishment projects in West Hampton Dunes, East Quogue and Hampton Bays to bolster beaches.