No plans to smooth out escarpment

by Daniel Bowden
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lumina News file photo 

Seasonal weather patterns and tides create escarpments along Wrightsville’s beach strand in the fall and winter months. The town will allow the currently escarpment to correct itself naturally.

Town officials have no plans to take action regarding the large escarpment on the beach strand between Johnnie Mercer’s pier and Stone Street. 

“It’s almost an annual occurrence,” said Mike Vukelich, public works director for the town of Wrightsville Beach. “Other than the safety of the visiting public, there’s not really much concern with them.”

Vukelich explained these large escarpments that are carved into the beach strand just about every year result from higher-than-normal tides, caused by fall’s harvest moon and larger-than-normal wave action due to nor’easters and late-season hurricanes. The destruction of the sandbars just offshore due to large storms causes the waves to break more powerfully farther north and pull the sand back out into deeper water.

Wrightsville Beach typically experiences its most dramatic effects where the current escarpment is located, between Jonnie Mercer’s pier and Stone Street. The beach strand at the north end tends to be much flatter, and while some erosion can occasionally be seen at the south end, it’s never as severe and the jetty often traps sand carried by south-moving currents. 

“The beach at the south end actually tends to build up during these times,” Vukelich said. 

When a powerful storm — just shy of being a named tropical storm — hit Wrightsville Beach several years ago, the town imported sand to repair major escarpments. In that instance, the escarpments came all the way up into the dune structure, and the sand was only used to renourish areas near high traffic accesses. Vukelich said the town is reluctant to do that again, because the beach tends to renourish itself.

“If this typical pattern continues, all we’d be doing is throwing sand into the ocean,” Vukelich said.

Plus, importing sand comes with its own set of problems. The process costs more than $30,000, and strict regulations call for specific grain sizes and colors for imported sand. There are also regulations regarding how much sand can be imported.

Other years, the public works department has used bulldozers to bring wet sand from the shore farther up the beach to smooth out the slope. This has been effective in previous years, but the current escarpment has not been enough of a problem at this point to warrant it.

Pedestrian foot traffic itself helps to smooth out the escarpment. As people sit on the edge and slide down the slope, sand slides with them and helps to smooth out the beach. 

As for how long it will be until the beach levels itself out again, it all just depends on storm activity. 

“We can’t predict the weather,” Vukelich said.

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