BEACH HAVEN, N.J. (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.
"That material is just as good as anything on the beach already," said Stewart Farrell, founder of the Coastal Research Center at New Jersey's Stockton University, and one of the nation's leading coastal experts.
Concerns that 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. Farrell said the amount of the 4-square-mile inlet to be dredged is a small portion of the sharks' habit and the potential concerns will be monitored during the project.
Concerns about sand mining that could change the shape of coastlines has led the San Francisco Baykeeper group to file numerous lawsuits against California and sand mining companies seeking to reduce the amount of sand removed from the mouth of San Francisco Bay.
Despite those concerns, inlet dredging and beach restoration have gone hand-in-hand along much of America's coastline.
In Massachusetts, Cape Cod had such a frequent need to dredge dozens of small harbor inlets every year that towns were competing for the few dredges available and paying a premium for them, said Jeff Benoit, president of the Arlington, Virginia-based Restore America's Estuaries. Barnstable County, which covers all Cape towns, purchased its own dredge in 1994 and provides dredging service to towns for about 70 percent below the market rate, Benoit said.
In North Carolina, sand buildup is so recurrent in the Hatteras and Oregon inlets that dredging is a way of life, providing sand for beaches including South Nags Head. Sand from the Carolina Beach Inlet helped replenish the adjacent beach of the same name, and sand from the Shallotte Inlet helped widen Ocean Isle Beach.
Dredging in Virginia's Rudee Inlet helped widen the sands of Virginia Beach, and numerous inlet dredging projects provided sand for wider beaches in Florida's Boca Raton, Jupiter, and New Smyrna Beach, among others.
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC