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Wilmington Harbor Dredging

The Wilmington Harbor Deep-Draft Navigation Project consists of federal channels servicing port facilities along the Cape Fear River.  Dredging is conducted at various intervals throughout the federal channels to depths adequate to maintain safe and efficient navigation access to the port.  The Wilmington Harbor Inner Ocean Bar portion of the project is generally dredged every 2-3 years, with placement of the dredged material on area beaches in accordance with the current approved Sand Management Plan.  Due to the lack of Dredging Contractor bidding on this contract last year when the contract was first advertised, the Corps was compelled to perform this work outside the normal beach placement environmental window.  In coordination with the environmental agencies and local communities, beach placement of material dredged from the navigation channel is anticipated to occur between the end of May through August 2018.  This dredging cycle will see placement of material on the beaches of Oak Island.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the project about? 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District is responsible for maintaining the existing Federal navigation channels into Wilmington Harbor to ensure operational access by both commercial and recreational vessels to port facilities.  Each year, the Wilmington District manages a number of dredging contracts that remove material from the navigation channel, and handles that dredged material in a safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible manner that is coordinated with local stakeholders, resource agencies, and our customers at the North Carolina State Ports Authority.  The material coming out of the Wilmington Harbor Inner Ocean Bar area is beach compatible material and is scheduled for placement on the beaches of Oak Island.

 Why is this dredging happening in the summertime? 

Dredging at the Wilmington Harbor Inner Ocean Bar usually occurs every 2-3 years, with beach-compatible material placed alternately on either Oak Island or Bald Head Island within the approved environmental window between November 16 and April 30.  This past year, no bids were received from the initial attempt to award the contract in November of 2017.    In order to keep the navigation channel open and functioning for ship traffic, we considered all options available to us and determined that we needed to re-issue the contract solicitation a second time for work outside the environmental window in order to find dredges available to do the work.

 Is this work going to happen in the summertime every year from now on?

No, the work this summer is intended as a one-time event only that is necessary due to the funding situation this past year and a lack of bidders when the job was first advertised during the environmental window.

 What activities will be happening now that the contract is awarded?

Monitoring of sea turtle activity and relocation of turtle nests was initiated on 1 May at the beginning of nesting season.  The purpose of this program is to ensure no nests are directly impacted by sand placement operations. The Contractor will begin mobilizing pipe on the beach in anticipation of the start of active dredging operations, currently scheduled to initiate late May.  The Contractor will also be avoiding the active bird nesting areas on the tip of the island near Fort Caswell.

When will work start and how long will it last?

Work will start in late May.  The Contractor has 120 days in which to complete the dredging work and de-mobilize from the beach.  If the dredging is completed before the end of the 120 days, it is possible the Contractor may be able to de-mobilize sooner however, at this time the contract period of performance will end on or before 28 August.

Where on the beach will the work be happening?

Before work commences a survey of the beachfront is performed to adjust placement locations.   We have a map available showing the current placement plan, with placement on Caswell Beach and Oak Island.  The gap area between Caswell Beach and Oak Island represents a stretch of coastline where the beach template is full and beach fill is not needed.  You can expect to see several pieces of large construction equipment on the beach occupying a 1000 ft construction zone which will be off-limits to public access.  This zone will move as the work progresses and will be marked with fencing.  Contractor personnel will be monitoring the entrance to the construction area. 

Will this work go on 24 hours a day, with lights and noise at night?

Yes, the contractor will be working 24 hours a day until work is completed.  This will include the use of lighting and equipment with back-up safety alarms.

What about the environmental impacts of doing this work in the summer?

This work was coordinated with the appropriate State and Federal environmental agencies to ensure all measures to avoid or minimize environmental impacts were included in the contract requirements.  We continue to work closely with the agencies and the towns of Caswell Beach and Oak Island to update them on the status of work and coordinate ongoing requirements as work progresses.

 How big will the dredge pipe be and will I be able to access the beach while the work is going on?

Construction is generally completed using a large pipeline dredge, which pumps material on to the beach via a dredge pipe approximately 3 feet in diameter that either floats in the water, or runs along the beach itself.   During the period of active dredging/placement operations, the dredge pipe will extend along the beach between the toe of the dunes and the mean high water line.  Walkover access ramps for pedestrian traffic will be constructed over the dredge pipe at intervals not greater than 400 feet and at every pedestrian beach access point.

Where will the contractor staging areas be located?

The Contractor will stage their equipment in the 800 Block of Caswell Beach Road and at the Parking Lot at the 700 Block of Caswell Beach Road. 

I noticed some of the dunes in the vicinity of the staging area have been disturbed – is this allowed?

The Contractor has been granted permission to minimally disturb dunes in the vicinity of the staging areas and beach access points.  The Contractor will repair these areas upon the completion of the project. 

What will happen to the turtles that nest on my beach during this season?

The Wilmington District has worked closely with the environmental agencies to ensure all permits are in place and measures are included in the contract to minimize or avoid any impact to turtles.  These measures will include 24-hour monitoring throughout the proposed placement areas and nest relocations out of the placement area until work has been completed and the beach area cleared.

What can I expect on my beach as this work progresses?

As the active work zone moves down the beach the completed portions of the beach will be available for public use, as will all other areas of the beach outside the active work zone.  The Contractor may continue to have a pipe through these areas until the entire dredging project is finished.

How wide will the beach be after the dredge material is place there and work is completed?

The eastern placement area within Caswell Beach will be about 100 feet wide after placement.  The portion of the project area west of the gap area will vary between 100 and 130 feet wide after construction is complete.

 How long will this material stay on the beaches?

The amount of time sand stays on a beach is impacted by many variables including weather and ocean conditions and is therefore difficult to predict.

What does this mean if I have rented a beachfront house where the work is occurring?

As the work progresses portions of the beach in the active work zone will be temporarily off limits to the general public for safety reasons.  These active work zones will be approximately 1000 feet in length, which is about 500 feet on either side of the discharge end of the pipe.  All other areas of the beach will remain accessible to the general public.  Property owners and/or renters may experience temporary disruption in direct beach access while the active work zone passes in front of their property.  However, as work progresses and the active work zone moves down the beach, these impacts will dissipate.     

What will this placement do for our community?

Although this placement is associated with a navigation project, placement of beach-compatible dredge material on area beaches provides many incidental benefits to local communities, including recreational use and coastal storm risk reduction.  Although construction may pose a temporary inconvenience to local residents, the benefits associated with project completion will be available to all.

Where do I go to find out how work is progressing and get the latest status update?

Please refer to the Wilmington District web site www.saw.usace.army.mil for updates on the status of project construction.  In addition, if you have questions about the project please call:

Public Affairs Office, US Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District:  910-251-4625