WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – Construction work to restore the beach and dunes protecting NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility damaged by super storm Sandy began here July 18.
Dredges from New Jersey-based Weeks Marine, Inc. are on-site, pumping sand from an off-shore borrow site and placing the sand along the beach restoring berm and dune elevations to levels that will protect NASA and Mid-Atlantic Spaceport infrastructure from strong, storm-generated wave damage from the Atlantic Ocean.
The more than $11 million project will place approximately 650,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach and is designed to reduce wave action before it reaches the rock seawall and sand dune system.
Hurricane Sandy pummeled the northern Virginia coast in late October of 2012, less than three months after the Norfolk District completed the original Wallops Island beach construction project.
According to George Mears, the Norfolk District project manager, “the beach performed as advertised” during the storm.
“Many at Wallops Flight Facility monitored the storm during the daylight hours using cameras mounted in several towers along the beach,” he said. “At the height of the storm, overwash wasn’t occurring anywhere along the new beach.”
Before the beach project, the launch range infrastructure was routinely subjected to overwash and sand accumulation during nor’easters or significant storms, Mears said.
Hurricane Sandy’s wave action caused little damage to Wallops Island’s infrastructure, which is nearly $1 billion in value; however, the hurricane took a toll on the new berms and dunes that was likely the equivalent of at least two to three years of projected erosion, Mears said.
Congress responded to NASA’s request for restoration funding with an emergency supplemental appropriation, which is paying for this restoration effort.
"The restoration of the Wallops Island Shoreline is necessary to provide storm damage reduction for approximately $1.2 billion of Federal and State assets that support nearly $100 million annually in programs as well as the $1.9 billion International Space Station cargo resupply missions," said Paul Bull, deputy division chief of facilities management at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.
A post-Sandy beach preliminary damage assessment conducted by Norfolk District revealed that the storm removed between 650,000 and 800,000 cubic yards of sand out of the total 3.2 million cubic yards placed on the beach during the original beach construction project.
Erosion that has occurred since the hurricane appears to be much closer to projections – roughly about 250,000 cubic yards per year from the beach and near shore, according to Norfolk District officials.
The emergency supplemental funding from Congress won’t restore the beach in August of 2014 to the way it was in August of 2012, but should come close to restoring most of the sediment lost during Hurricane Sandy. The goal is to effectively postpone the next replenishment to 2017 or 2018 as per the original beach design performance estimate.
The beach material is coming from a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management-managed borrow site about 14 miles from Wallops Island, by sea, and about 7 miles east of Assateague.
The Norfolk District expects the dredging to continue until late September, but restored dunes will still need to be planted with beach grass that will help stabilize the newly established dunes. The variety is a winter beach grass which can’t be planted until December; however, this grass is hardy, establishes itself quickly, sending down roots several feet into the dunes by the end of its first growing season.