BEACH HAVEN, New Jersey (AP) — Two common problems in coastal areas – eroded beaches, and clogged inlets hazardous for boat traffic – have a mutual solution.
Coastal areas around the country are dredging clogged inlets to make them easier and safer to navigate, and using the sand they suck from the bottom to widen beaches damaged by natural erosion or serious storms.
It’s not cheap – one project in New Jersey will cost more than $18 million – but it is popular from Cape Cod to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and along the Pacific coast.
New Jersey has two such projects underway. One is deepening the Little Egg Inlet, one of the widest in the state that has never been dredged. The U.S. Coast Guard last March removed navigational buoys because sand buildup was so severe that no safe channel could be marked.
“This project is designed to have the multiple benefits of restoring beaches that are economically vital for shore tourism and storm protection, while making it safe for boaters to again use Little Egg Inlet,” said David Rosenblatt, an assistant commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
A smaller project is dredging the Brigantine Inlet between Brigantine and Atlantic City. Although that waterway is generally used only by small craft, the sand built up there is being pumped to the north end of the island, which was severely eroded by a January 2016 nor’easter. It’s also the area where Superstorm Sandy made landfall in October 2012.
Unlike other dredging projects, such as those from heavily industrialized rivers where bottom sediment may include pollutants, these inlet dredging projects involve clean sand that can easily be transferred ashore.
Concerns have arisen from inlet dredging include possibly disturbing wildlife habitat, or affecting the shape of nearby shorelines. In the Little Egg Inlet, some conservationists are concerned about destroying nursing grounds for sand sharks.
The San Francisco Baykeeper group, meanwhile, filed numerous lawsuits against California and sand mining companies seeking to reduce the amount of sand removed from the mouth of San Francisco Bay. The lawsuits were filed amidst concerns of sand mining potentially changing the shape of coastlines.
Despite those concerns, inlet dredging and beach restoration have gone hand-in-hand along much of America’s coastline.