Staff photo by Allison Potter
Sand removed from Masons Inlet is relocated to Figure Eight Island as routine maintenance dredging continues on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
The nearly $2.2 million routine maintenance dredging of Masons Inlet began on Friday, Jan. 11, and must be completed by March 31.
Engineer Chris Gibson, of Gahagan and Bryant Associates Inc., said the work by Norfolk Dredging Company is expected to be completed by the beginning of March, if not sooner.
“Typically, we have to do maintenance about every two to three years,” Gibson said. “... We keep the inlet locationally stable so the folks at Shell Island [Resort] don’t have to worry about the inlet migrating under that building. It’s 3,000 feet away from them. Then the material that’s taken out of it is put onto the beaches of Figure Eight, so we help protect the homes up on that side.”
Gibson said it is the tendency of Mother Nature for the inlet to migrate south at a slow rate, so taking shoals out of the inlet helps make sure the inlet is where it should be.
The work is being done 24 hours per day in rotating 12-hour shifts, with about 15 to 20 people, including the beach crew, workers on the dredge, deck hands and tug boat drivers.
This project is being conducted with The Chesapeake, a new dredge that will shorten the length of the project to about 45 days.
“The Chesapeake is a 24-inch portable dredge, so right now that’s probably the largest that’s able to dredge this shallow a channel,” Gibson said. “In the past, the dredges that have done the work have all been 16-inch dredges. So now we’ve got a 24-inch class dredge, we have more horsepower. The production is a lot more so they’re able to move sand faster. Typically, this project would be closer to 90 days, so we’ve cut the duration almost in half.”
David Kellam, administrator for the Figure Eight Island Home Owners Association and co-chair of the Mason Inlet Preservation Group, said he considers the inlet a success story for all of New Hanover County, but will wait to speak about the new dredge until the project is complete.
“I want to see how it performs,” Kellam said. “We’ve not seen it really performing really much yet. They just got going about a week ago, and they seem to be moving along fairly nicely. It’s always a tight timeframe.”
He said the inlet relocation saved infrastructure on the north end of Wrightsville Beach and enhanced water quality through flushing of the marshes in and behind Wrightsville Beach, Landfall, Figure Eight and Middle Sound areas.
“It’s been a win-win for the county and the residents of Wrightsville Beach and the residents of Figure Eight Island and all of the general area,” Kellam said.
Both Kellam and Gibson have been involved with the inlet since it was originally relocated in 2002.
by Norfolk Dredging came in about $1 million under the estimated amount at $2,178,600.
Figure Eight Island properties will pay about $1.6 million for 300,000 cubic yards, at $5.50 per yard of sand. The rest will be assessed to benefiting properties on the north end of Wrightsville Beach.
“This is kind of my baby,” Gibson said. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been working on this same project for 12 years now. The nice part is there’s so much information, and by working on this for that period of time we’re able to look at historical trends, everything that’s happened over time and how each maintenance event has performed.”
He said the project is adapted based on past dredging projects along with trying to improve the project each cycle and trying to ensure the environment is not hurt in the process.
“One of the things we’ve seen over the years is that the amount of shoaling in the inlet during our maintenance interval is pretty much identical to the amount of erosion that we see on Figure Eight,” Gibson said. “We’re actually recycling the materials from the same areas back to the area where the sand came from. Those numbers have been very consistent for the last 12 years.”