The last grains of more than three million tons of sand will be sprayed onto the beaches of Sagaponack Village later this week, the final stage of a $26 million beach reconstruction, if dredging crews can dodge coastal storms long enough to get in a final few days of work.
According to engineers who designed the six-mile-long project, the dredging crews had about 1,500 feet of shoreline to go when they had to stop working and bring the 300-foot dredging barge Illinois into the shelter of Shinnecock Bay ahead of Wednesday’s approaching storm.
With calm weather forecast from Thursday through at least Saturday, the engineers expect the last of the pumping to be completed by the end of the weekend.
“This has probably been the nicest stretch of conditions they’ve had,” engineer Tim Kana, Ph.D., of the project’s design firm, Coastal Science and Engineering, said on Tuesday. “I know they expected to have more like this in November and December, but it seemed a little bit rougher this year than others.”
Last week, the Southampton Town Board gave the dredging company, Michigan-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, an approximately six-week extension on the official deadline for the completion of the project, which was supposed to be finished by December 31 under the original contract. But the crews lost 41 days of work due to high winds and stormy seas during the three months alloted for the work, which began mid-October.
When conditions allowed, the Illinois’s giant cutter head and enormous pumps were blasting sand ashore at rates higher than the engineers had initially predicted, completing nearly 700 feet of beach per day at peak output.
“When all the stars aligned, I think they even surprised themselves,” Dr. Kana said of the dredging crews, who blast a slurry of water and sand onto the beach and bulldoze it into the surf line to extend the new beach.
Crews worked through Monday’s heavy snowfall but had to halt pumping early on Tuesday to begin the process of bringing the barge and its accessory equipment back through Shinnecock Inlet because of high seas predicted on Wednesday. Calming north winds on Wednesday night and Thursday could allow the dredge to get back to work quickly and, with luck, finish the actual pumping before the next round of storms predicted to sweep through the area early next week.
The project, which is being paid for mostly by oceanfront homeowners along its reach, has approximately doubled the width of dry beaches between Flying Point in Water Mill and Townline Road in Sagaponack, and created a more gradual slope into the ocean beyond the surf line to dampen the erosive effects of storm waves. In the summer months, the wider dry beach is expected to help once-broad natural dune systems rebuild, bolstering protection to oceanfront homes.
Once the work in Sagaponack is completed, the Illinois and beach crews will shift their efforts a few miles west, to the beaches between Shinnecock Inlet and Ponquogue and Tiana beaches. They intend to pump sand near the inlet to clear the navigation channel and use the spoils to help rebuild the beaches to the west.
“I know they are anxious to get out of there and start work on WOSI,” Dr. Kana said, using the engineers’ nickname for the stretch of beach known as “West Of Shinnecock Inlet.”
Once the actual pumping of sand is completed on the east side of the town, it will take another two to three weeks to put the final touches on the project and relocate the on-shore heavy equipment used by the dredging company. Dr. Kana said that his engineers are completing surveys of the broad swaths of ocean floor where the sand was dredged from, known as borrow areas, and located about one mile offshore.