Beach Renourishment Keeps Ocean City Rolling

Beach Renourishment Keeps Ocean City Rolling

Governor Larry Hogan,  Baltimore District Commander Col. Edward Chamberlayne of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton, among other public officials, met for a press conference on the 94th street dunes crossing Monday to highlight an ongoing beach renourishment program that’s been impacting Ocean City since the early ’90s. 

“Most people are aware of how great the beach is here,” Hogan said. “But what most visitors don’t realize is that Ocean City’s prime attraction, its legendary beach, is also a very important part of a massive project to protect Ocean City and our coastal shoreline from powerful coastal storms and hurricanes.”

Beach renourishment at work.

What does beach renourishment do? 

Before and after beach renourishment on Florida’s shoreline.

Beach renourishment (also referred to as beach or sand replenishment) widens the expanse of a beach to make up for the sand that’s annually lost to erosion (when the sand is moved by water or wind) and longshore drift (water moving the sand parallel to the coastline).

The process is sometimes referred to as a “soft armoring” technique for its use of “soft” or natural materials to protect the shoreline rather than a “hard armoring” technique like, say, constructing a seawall to protect the beach from erosion and rising sea levels. 

Hard armoring techniques–from walls to permanent docks to artificial sand beaches–can, in the long run, do more harm than good and lead to structural damage, destruction of the shoreline’s ecosystem and more erosion over time.  While beach renourishment is only a short-term fix, it helps maintain the expanse of sand, the buffer between the Town and the sea, without doing too much harm to the ecosystem and ultimately working to preserve it. 

How does it work in Ocean City?

Speakers at the press conference reflected on how successful the renourishment project has been in Ocean City since it began over 20 years ago.

“This is an absolute success story,” Chamberlayne said. “If you came here to hear bad news, you’re in the wrong place. This is a great news story about a great partnership between our federal partners, our state and local partners.

We had a problem here in about January 2016 when we had horrible damage here to the beaches here in Ocean City, a real threat to the public infrastructure. Now here, a little bit less than a year and a half later, we have great success here to celebrate.”

Here’s a little background information from the Town’s page on beach replenishment

In 1994, the State of Maryland, Worcester County and Ocean City accepted responsibility for operation and maintenance of the completed Atlantic Coast of Maryland Storm Protection Project. The project consists of the Beach Renourishment program, dunes, dune crossovers, dune planting and fencing along with the seawall along the boardwalk.

The State of Maryland, Worcester County, and Ocean City have a long term (50 year) written partnership agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to perform periodic beach renourishment as needed to maintain adequate storm protection. Per this agreement, the Army Corps of Engineers designs and manages the needed renourishment dredging operations and pays for 53% of the cost of renourishment.

The town of Ocean City uses mostly soft armoring techniques like widening the expanse of the beach and utilizing a vegetative dune system, though there’s also a protective seawall built into the boardwalk near the Inlet.

“These elements work in concert to reduce the impact of inundation, storm surge, wave action and reducing the risk to the community and public infrastructure from coastal storms both big and small,” Chamberlayne said.

Every four years or so, approximately 900,000 cubic yards of sand dredged offshore are placed on Ocean City’s beach in order to protect the town.  The cost-shared renourishment process costs the Town about $3 million, and while that sounds like a lot of money, Hogan has said that the replenishment overall has helped prevent over $900 million in damage to Ocean City infrastructure since the project’s beginning.

“This is an important partnership, and it’s going to help preserve an icon for our state, for the East Coast and it is also saving taxpayers of Maryland and the nation by preventing an estimated $927 million dollars in damages since the 90s,” he said.

The process is scheduled to happen every four years so the shoreline can continue protecting the town and providing miles of sand for beachgoers. However, because of the intensity and impact of storms that have occurred since the last beach renourishment, the project was moved up a year in order to prevent further damage to the beach and, eventually, the town. 

The next beach renourishment project is scheduled for 2021, though Monday’s speakers all related their hope for federal and local partners to continue providing this project in Ocean City for decades to come.

Sen. Jim Mathias was present to voice his support of the project. “I can tell you that this deal is about half over, and we’re on the countdown on the other side now,” he said. “I’m asking all of us here that are assembled today, our federal friends, state friends, county friends and local friends, it’s time to get back to the table to make sure this continues.”

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