Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Beach Protection

The barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks of North Carolina are composed of sand. This sand is in near constant movement, resulting in an ever-changing shoreline—a process witnessed by anyone who observes the beach on a regular basis. The normal action of winds, waves, tides, and storms reduces the depth of the beach and erodes the dunes. Long-term records have documented the loss of shoreline along parts of Bogue Banks between 1936 and 1994 to be 120 ft., averaging 1 to 3 feet per year. As these islands change from uninhabited to populated, the erosion part of shoreline dynamics becomes an issue.

The commitment to beach protection began early in the town’s history. According to the July 1975 Shore Line, “Residents and property owners met June 26 . . . for a discussion of the Coastal Management Act as it affects our town.” The North Carolina General Assembly had passed the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) in 1974. The Planning Board, realizing much of Pine Knoll Shores fell within the act’s “Areas of Environmental Concern,” pledged that “...the Town will strive to protect the natural terrain and environment, particularly ocean and sound shorelines, frontal dunes, maritime forests, and wetlands.”

In keeping with this pledge, the 1976 Land Use Plan in Pine Knoll Shores reflected CAMA guidelines for oceanfront development and established ordinances for setbacks measured from the toe of the frontal dune or the first line of stable vegetation. This plan together with Pine Knoll Shores zoning laws and “covenants of the Roosevelt interests” governed development from 1976 to 1980. In that timeframe, oceanfront development, it seems, had no trouble meeting established frontal-dune setbacks. However, all that would begin to change in 1981 when oceanfront development began to move westward.

The first mention of problems with setbacks came in a 1981 Shoreline article
noting that a 50-unit oceanfront condo under development was denied a permit for a swimming pool that “would have extended into the 100-foot setback from the ocean.” Appeals to the Board of Adjustment for setback variances were frequent from 1981 to 1983. Beachwalk needed a variance to build a gazebo. Maritime West, Maritime Place and Ocean Grove would require variances to be developed.

The first use of the term “beach nourishment” may have been in 1983. On April 2, 1983, Beacon’s Reach Master Association, made up of the presidents of the other homeowner associations within Beacon’s Reach, met with PKA and PIKSCO representatives and representatives of other oceanfront developments to discuss the problem of beach erosion. Colonel Dennison, from Von Oesen Engineering Firm, spoke at this meeting. He stated that Bogue Banks might be “one of the most stable of the State’s coastal islands”; however, the average erosion rate was about two feet annually. One beachfront property representative present “estimated that his area had lost as much as thirty feet this year.” Dennison indicated that there is no long-term solution to shifting sands; however, “a temporary corrective measure may be to bulldoze sand back to the beach and stabilize it with sea oats. He called this “beach nourishment.” 

(Several years after beach grass planting, the dune built up 5 feet or more)

Roosevelt representative Ted Hearth recommended that “such pushing be undertaken immediately” to avoid later CAMA regulations and asked those present to commit to the project, which was estimated to cost approximately $10 per linear square foot and should include only areas of “400-500 continuous feet of beach.”

At a follow-up meeting on April 5, 1983, at a meeting of the Pine Knoll Shores Board of Adjustment, reported on by The Shoreline, Hearth announced, “. . . the Roosevelts, the Ramada Inn and all five of the Beacon’s Reach associations . . . agreed to cooperate to repair some 10,000 feet of the beach area.”

Eastern oceanfront property would not be exempt from similar problems. In 1985, The Shoreline reported that winter storms caused anxiety as “high tides sliced away at the piles of sand they had bulldozed from the beach to build up their frontal dunes, eroding about 10 feet from the toe of the dune.” The bulldozed area started “2,700 feet eastward from the situm” (meaning the Ocean Park sittum). To enhance the effectiveness of bulldozing sand, “ owners had planted 36,000 sprigs of American beach grass on the bulldozed area beginning about 10 feet from the toe of the dune.” The plantings seemed to protect much of the bulldozed sand, and property owners planned, in keeping with its 1985 CAMA permit, to “interplant the American beach grass with sea oats in April.”

A combination of bulldozing beach sand and holding down the newly formed dunes with plantings would become the pattern for protecting oceanfront development throughout the 80s. After the hurricanes of 1996, more dramatic “beach nourishment” would be necessary.

As early as 1994, Pine Knoll Shores Board of Commissioners, citing a study that showed that beach erosion locally was “approaching five feet a year,” passed a resolution to establish a Beach Renourishment Committee, asking the U.S. Department of Army, Wilmington District, Corps of Engineers to designate the Pine Knoll Shores oceanfront “as a priority area to receive any sand that needs a deposit area in the immediate future.” (This may be the first time the term “beach nourishment became “renourishment,” but the words “preservation” and “replenishment” were still more commonly used.”)

In 1995, the Beach Preservation Association of Pine Knoll Shores (BPA) was formed and began to meet monthly. After Hurricane Bertha hit in July 1996, Dr. Ruth Sweeny, at the BPA's August meeting, stated,  “...4.7 miles of PKS beachfront are in urgent need of renourishment.”  Bertha did its most dramatic damage on the frontal dunes, leaving some Pine Knoll Shores properties with little or no dune protection. Bulldozing to build up the frontal dune was necessary. The BPA believed, “ . . . a beach replenishment by Corp of Engineers was both physically and financially do-able.” The BPA requested that the town become the sponsoring agent of such a project and that “it arrange for a special bond issue to accomplish the replenishment.”

Then Hurricane Fran hit. The Shoreline reported property damage in Pine Knoll Shores from Fran was estimated to be $1,750,000 with 40% of single-family and 95% of multi-family structures reporting structural damage and about $400,000 in damages for beach steps and decks. “There was significant beach erosion—estimated to be anywhere from 10’-35’.”
Tropical Storm Josephine followed in October 1996, and that month, all Pine Knoll Shores property owners received a Beach Preservation Survey. Only 524 of the 1,436 responses (63% of PKS property owners) voted for a special bond issue for beach nourishment. Recognizing the need for a countywide initiative in the aftermath of the vote, Mayor Hasulak stated that Pine Knoll Shores Board of Commissioners “ . . . would work with County Commissioners and State Officials to get beach renourishment for the entire island.”

The mayor's promise proved difficult to keep, but the PKS Beach Preservation Association kept working toward this end. Meeting regularly and working with a County Task Force, the BPA kept its focus on a nourishment effort for all of Bogue Banks. Education of property owners was part of the plan. For example, in March 1997, The Shoreline had a library notice that the Beach Preservation Association of Pine Knoll Shores had made available for public viewing a video on beach nourishment projects in Florida.

The original Von Oesen Engineering firm's recommendations for sand fencing and vegetation were not forgotten either. In April 1998, The Shoreline reported that the town received a grant “to sand fence and revegetate 4,900 linear feet of PKS beach area.” Serving on the committee to select the beachfront sites were Bob Ruggerio from Pine Knoll Association, Frank Precht from Beacon’s Reach and A.C. Hall from the PKS BPA. The following month, broader BPA goals were suggested by a Shoreline meeting notice with an agenda focusing on “ . . . beach access, Corps of Engineers Project for all of Bogue Banks, County Task Force efforts, etc.”

In August 1998 came Hurricane Bonnie, followed in 1999 by Dennis and Floyd. Finally, in April 1999, the announcement came: “The Pine Knoll Shores Beach Association has expanded to cover all of Bogue Banks and has changed its name to the Bogue Banks Beach Preservation Association. One of its projects was to create a “ . . . video showing the eroded conditions of Bogue Banks beaches and the economic impact their loss would have on Carteret County and the State.” The video would be shown to organizations and to local, state and federal elected representatives. The expanded Beach Preservation Association also maintained a website:, getting all the towns on Bogue Banks to work together would be a slow process. 

In November 2000, Pine Knoll Shores held a public hearing to establish “Service Districts for the purpose of financing, providing, and maintaining a municipal service district for beach erosion control and flood and hurricane protection works by a system of Atlantic Ocean beach renourishment. The tax revenues derived from the proposed service district will be used to finance a beach renourishment project within the Town of Pine Knoll Shores.” And, then came the announcement that the PKS “ . . . Board of Commissioners approved the contract for CSE Baird to furnish engineering services for the Beach Nourishment Project.”

Funded entirely by Pine Knoll Shores taxpayers, the first major beach renourishment project began on November 16, 2001. In some of the most damaged areas of the beach, such as the Pine Knoll Townes and Ocean Grove beachfronts, CAMA permits allowed sandbags to bolster the eroded dunes and trap renourishment sand, but a town ordinance passed early in 2002 prohibited any bulldozing of sand to be done concurrently with the renourishment effort.
Continuing through April 2002, this first beach renourishment program deposited 1,276,000 cubic yards of sand, taken from a sandbar within view of the beach, along the entire length of Pine Knoll Shores beachfront and 457,000 cubic yards for Indian Beach. Photos in The Shoreline vividly documented the project. This voter-approved bond funded effort, was a dramatic and traumatic process producing dark, gravel-like sand with a high shell content. Later beach nourishment projects would be different.
The following photo shows a typical sand-pumping project, with bulldozers being used to control the placement and distribution of the sand exiting the pipe.

On May 3, 2002, about a month after Mayor Reese Musgrave died, a Pine Knoll Shores Renourishment Party was held at the Iron Steamer Pier Beach Access.

During 2004, the US Army Corps of Engineers Section (USACE) 933 project pumped 699,000 cubic yards of sand mainly on Indian Beach and a small length of the western end of Pine Knoll Shores.

2007 was a busy year for beach work, with the second phase of the USACE section 933 project and the FEMA post Ophelia restoration, both depositing sand on the beach—approximately 508,000 cubic yards by the section 933 project and 262,000 cubic yards from FEMA post Ophelia effort.

In 2008, as part of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) maintenance program, 145,000 cubic yards of sand was deposited on a portion of the east end of Pine Knoll Shores beach. The main channel of the ICW in North Carolina was completed in 1940, and it has since been maintained by dredging to remove shoals that develop. Some of the dredged material removed during maintenance activities is beach-quality sand. That material is placed directly on nearby ocean beaches when consistent with USACE regulations; otherwise, it is stockpiled in confined disposal areas near the shoreline of the ICW[i].

The 2013 beach nourishment project began in February and pumped approximately 315,000 cubic yards of sand onto about 2.5 miles of shoreline in Pine Knoll Shores, about half of the town’s beach strand[ii].

Since 2000, beach renourishment projects along Bogue Banks have taken place to the east and west of Pine Knoll Shores as well, and as far back as the late 1970s sand has periodically been place on the beaches of Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach, and Bogue Inlet Point.
(the posts of past sand fence installation are just visible. The fencing and grass planting effort covered a period of a dozen years)

It is also critical to note that the placement of sand fences and various varieties of beach grasses has proven to be an effective and economically attractive way to stabilize the dune structure. In places, their use has built up the frontal dunes significantly, adding up to 10 feet of height to the dune and extending the near shore dune toward the waterline.

Post Authors: Phyllis Makuck, Walt Zaenker

[i] The discussion covering 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008 are based on information contained in the report “Bogue Banks, Carteret County, NC, Final Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement, USACE 2014”
[ii] The Daily News, Jacksonville, NC, Feb 20, 2013