A $230 million shoreline storm protection project that includes creating 16-foot-tall dunes is changing the face of Long Beach, a magnet for beachgoers in the region.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is transforming the barrier island shoreline in a federally funded project to build dunes in front of the city’s famed boardwalk and widen the beach with 300 feet of sand. Pedestrian walkovers will guide beachgoers from the boardwalk, over the dunes, to the sand.
“The aesthetics of the beach will change," Army Corps project manager Daniel Falt said. "The beach and the dune is to prevent storms and wave action from crashing onto the boardwalk and homes.”
Long Beach City Council President Anthony Eramo said the project was "long overdue."
"We should see bigger beaches and more secure dunes with four 30-foot wide walkovers," he said. "We want to maintain the character of the original boardwalk and make it safer for everyone."
Contractors are pumping 1.2 million tons of sand onto the beach from the ocean floor to create the dunes 16 feet above sea level, rising adjacent to but not higher than the boardwalk. The dunes planted with grass will be fenced off to protect the dunes, and there will be 100-foot-long walkovers extending down to the beach.
The project, which includes 15 jetties constructed last winter from Long Beach to Point Lookout, is planned to protect the 7-mile-long barrier island from a 100-year storm, or at least minimize the damage from another storm like Sandy, which in October 2012 tore apart the boardwalk and devastated the city.
Long Beach rebuilt the $44 million boardwalk one year after the storm with state and federal reimbursements. The boardwalk is now made with stronger wood, concrete foundations and a retaining wall facing the ocean.
The Army Corps has been monitoring the shoreline since the coast was battered by Hurricane Donna in 1960. Congress approved funding to protect the barrier island in 1996 that the city later rejected. Then in 2006, city council members turned down federal money for a $98 million protection plan, citing a $7 million cost to the city, concerns of obstructed views, and the prospect that the beach's fine white sand would be muddied by coarse sediment from the ocean floor.
Sandy and its 17-foot waves changed attitudes.
"It was clear we really need to do this and the entire island is extremely vulnerable," Eramo said. "I think those who voted it down in 2006 are kicking themselves now."
The current project is funded by the federal government as part of a 2013 $63 billion Sandy relief package, including $5 billion for Army Corps shoreline projects.
The change to towering dunes and walkovers jutting out on the beach from sweeping flat sand has been jarring to many, but residents and city officials say Long Beach can no longer go unprotected after superstorm Sandy.
"I think it's necessary, but I'd like it to be done. It'll be pristine again," Anthony Guadalupe, 36, of Long Beach said. "Over time, the beaches have become smaller from the ocean creeping in. Whatever we lose from the dunes will be added back with more sand. It's going to be different, but we'll just have to adjust like we always do."
Work began this week in front of the city’s 2.2-mile boardwalk, where bulldozers pushed mounds of wet sludge and sand forward on the beach to create the dunes and reshape the shoreline from Long Beach to Point Lookout.
The new, wider beaches are finished on the city's West End, where dunes with grass and walkovers have existed for the past 30 years, but had to be rebuilt after Sandy.
Work will continue next week after wrapping up construction between Grand Boulevard and New York Avenue. Contractors plan to move to the other side of the boardwalk at Roosevelt Boulevard to begin pumping sand and move west at a pace of about 200 feet per day.
The work, which has been taking place round-the-clock since July, has brought heavy equipment and the noise of machinery to the beach.
Stephanie Frawley, 50, who has lived on the West End for the past four years, said she has learned to live with construction on the beach.
"If it’s going to protect us, it’s worth it," Frawley said. "Sandy was inevitable. It was a freak storm. We protected the best we could before. Maybe we weren’t prepared, but now we will be."
Rocky jetties were designed to trap sand on the beach and prevent erosion. With dune work expected to finish by the end of the fall, the Army Corps will conduct inspections on the beach four times a year and begin to replenish sand again in five years.
The Army Corps and city officials have pointed to specific dredging sites where sand one mile off the coast is about 10,000 years old in an effort to try to match the same sparkling sand on the beach. The sand is pumped out black with pebbles and shells, but bleaches under the sun in about a week and will be combed and filtered by beach maintenance crews, officials said.
The project could also temporarily impact the surf as crews reshape the beach.
"The construction isn’t the greatest for surfing but storms will adjust to the natural slope with the waves and return to what the surf conditions were before," Falt said.
Large wooden poles have been driven 40 feet into the ground in front of the boardwalk for walkover construction later this year.
Long Beach was selected by the Army Corps first for shoreline hardening because of the availability of dredging equipment and sand collection sites in calm waters. Dune construction is also planned in Lido Beach and Point Lookout later this year, as to not disrupt protected birds during the piping plover nesting season.
A separate Army Corps back bays study is underway to add bulkheading and protections to most of Long Beach's northern bay front, which also flooded during Sandy.
The work marks the second straight summer contractors were on the beach. They reached a compromise with the city to minimize impacts during the height of beach season, which generates about $5 million in beach pass sales every year.
Beach pass sales declined last summer, as the Army Corps was hauling heavy rocks to construct jetties. Some vendors who work on the boardwalk said they have seen their business drop by half the past two summers.
“I wish it wasn’t in the summer, but it has to be done,” said Brian Braddish, owner of the boardwalk restaurant Riptides, which dune work hasn’t reached yet, but wooden poles have been driven in the sand.
“It has affected the traffic of people coming to Long Beach and if it’s here next summer, it will affect it,” Braddish said. “It’s a must needed project, so something has to be done. The attraction of the boardwalk will always be here.”
U.S. Army Corps project
7 miles of beach to be transformed
Cost $230 million in federal funds
Completing 200 feet of beach per day
1.2 million tons of sand pumped from ocean floor