Written by Gregory Druhak, email@example.com Wednesday, 19 March 2014 00:00
It seems like unbelievable fiction to say, “there be nary a man or woman alive today who remembers the more than half a million cubic yards it took to bury Bayville back in the spring of ’47,” but it’s true. And knowing the details about it could have an impact on planning the future since the village, state and federal government are currently in the process of writing a comprehensive feasibility study to protect the area.
It was a beach replenishment project, and as beach projects go, it’s no longer considered a large one. Large projects are on the order of one million to three million cubic yards of sand or more, an example of which is what is currently being done in the Rockaways to remedy the damage done by Storm Sandy. But in February of 1947, upon the signature of then Town Clerk Leslie Disbrow, the State of New York and the Town of Oyster Bay combined forces to build out the Oak Neck (now Stehli/Ransom) and Centre Island Beaches. They hired the Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company, a New York heavy equipment concern with experience on the Panama Canal as contractor, and used its 27-inch hydraulic steam dredge, “Baltimore,” to do the work. They spent a combined total of $189,946.17, a cost which they shared equally, and moved 507,000 cubic yards over the course of just 21 days, from May 1 to May 21, 1947.
Using what is now antiquated equipment, the town and the state took what had been decaying and eroding shorelines in the aftermath of hurricanes in 1934 and 1938 and created wide plains that acted as large sand capacitors at both the western and eastern extremes of Bayville. Though intended for recreation and as an economic enhancement to attract post-war veterans into the town, the sand they hydraulically pumped on to the shores helped protect Bayville for almost 50 years until the Halloween storm of 1991 and devastating Nor’ Easter of 1992 battered the coast. It wasn’t until 1997 or later that the conditions in Bayville had returned largely to their 1947 state. By comparison the Rockaway project being done now is replenishing one that was completed as recently as the 1970s after having lasted 40 years or less.
The Bayville project happened extremely quickly and without much fanfare, and to later generations conditions seemed perfectly natural, as if they had always been that way. Slightly off shore, fishermen look with their depth finders for the long holes the dredge left behind, and whose slopes are good for fishing, particularly bluefish, but they are generally clueless as to why they are there. Being solely a town and state effort, the project is not on any federal lists of previous Army Corps projects, and in state records it is listed under “Oyster Bay,” not “Bayville.” This is probably why the massive effort only vaguely remains in people’s consciousness.
The 1947 project cost a little under $.38 per cubic yard, which is the measure used to estimate sand replenishments. Were the same project to be undertaken in 2014, it would likely cost between $23 to $25 per cubic yard with the caveat that in the aftermath of Sandy this could be as low as $11 for ‘large’ projects due to the number of works going on. This falls on the low end of being a ‘large’ project.
At $24 per cubic yard of hydraulically dredged sand, that would make this a $12 million dollar project today. If you were to account for additional erosion since 1997, with a little buffer, and increase the size from 500,000 to 750,000 cubic yards, the cost would be $18 million.
Unlike 1947, there is now a standard mechanism that shares costs between federal, state and local governments. Local in this case would be an entity such as the Village of Bayville and/or the Town of Oyster Bay. First, federal and state split the tab, 65 percent to 35 percent, then by state law, state and local split the state’s portion 70 percent to 30 percent.
It works out that local pays a little more than 10 percent of a project’s estimated cost, which is a tremendous amount of leverage from the bigger partners.
At $1 to $2 million, such a beach replenishment project is a lot for any small community, or town, or even county, to absorb. But the money is also so greatly leveraged by the larger partners, however, as to make such a large project not just a fantasy, but within possible reach.
The story and analysis are interesting because it addresses a tug of war of sorts between two different coastal protection philosophies: sand replenishment versus armoring.
Recent Army Corps studies for Bayville are tending to point towards various forms of armoring, which is appropriate in a lot of cases, but they seem to be unaware of the extent of previous beach replenishment that has occurred successfully.
Armoring, including jetties and breakwaters, is the bulkheading and forceful holding back of the sea. At its worst imagine an ‘iron curtain’ around Bayville. The concrete wall in the Stands area is an example. It replaces ugly wooden pilings from the 1930s, pilings that nobody remembers because they were buried by the 1947 project, and effectively cuts off the community from water access. Wherever a bulkhead or jetty goes in and there is a general flow or current, there is always the problem that sand accretes at one end but gets excessively eroded at the other. The steel bulkhead on the Centre Island causeway, as another example, keeps needing additions at the western end because of sand erosion. This will go on until it eventually reaches the row of houses near Pine Lane.
At its best, armoring can protect against rare storm surges, and there are increasingly creative ways of building in armoring into dunes and beachfronts so they look natural. The area by what are called the “Presidents” Streets in Mill Neck Creek, for example, might be a good candidate for armoring.
Sand replenishment, at its best, protects property, looks natural, adds beauty to the community, adds economic and recreational value, and lasts a long time.
At its worst, sand replenishment is a very expensive wear item that goes away and has to be re-done. It can be harmful to the environment both for where the sand is dredged and to where it winds up afterwards. Further, it may not protect in all cases. In the story above, the sand on the beaches did not protect Bayville from flooding during Hurricane Carol in 1954. Also, as various baymen have pointed out, some drifting sands across the Centre Island causeway are gradually turning “Turtle Cove” into “Turtle marsh” and it will eventually have to be dredged to keep it as open water.
There is a case for both armoring and sand replenishment in protecting the local shoreline. Neither are perfect and neither will last forever, but they must provide a balance between protection, aesthetics, environment and cost during their useful lifetimes.