News Stories

Interactive map helps keep public informed at Caswell Beach and Oak Island

Published Sept. 6, 2018

  Because there was no dredging contractor bidding on the Wilmington Harbor Inner Ocean Bar project when the contract was first advertised in November of 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Wilmington District had to do the work outside of the normal beach placement environmental window, and which coincided with the summer tourist season. There were numerous concerns by Oak Island officials, environmental agencies, rental agencies and tourists who did not anticipate beach construction activity during summer.  The Wilmington Harbor Project Delivery Team (PDT) rolled up its sleeves to brainstorm innovative ways to keep all interested stakeholders up to date on the work in progress.  Enter a solution to help inform the public via an interactive map on the District’s website.

   “Our Navigation PDT has always worked hard to provide our partners and stakeholders the most current information available on the status of beach placement of dredged material,” said Pam Castens, Project Manager. “In the past, that information took the form of static snapshots in time of the contractor’s location on a particular day.  Our terrific Geographic Information System capabilities provided a tremendous opportunity to transform our static updates into an electronic format that could be updated more frequently with tailored search capabilities for the user.” 

   Wilmington District Geographer Trevor Lancaster was tasked with the project that he designed with daily updates to keep the public informed of the project.

   “My first thought was that this was a great opportunity to leverage our existing Wilmington District ArcGIS Online website,” he said.  “Districts throughout the Corps of Engineers have been increasingly using this platform to interface with the public, and this project provided a great pilot opportunity for us to do so.”

   Lancaster said the viewer was easy to put together.  He said ArcGIS Online, a platform for organizations to create, manage, share, and analyze spatial data, has a variety of templates for map viewers that are easily customizable.

   “We have spent the past year or so familiarizing ourselves with the ArcGIS Online workflows and spatial data management,” Lancaster explained.  “The upfront work involved acquiring project data from the Construction Branch and the Coastal Section, and migrating the data to online GIS layers. Once this data was hosted online, it was relatively easy to maintain and update as the Construction Branch reported progress. The challenge, of course, was to project out when certain stretches of Caswell and Oak Island Beaches would be receiving sand, and thus closed to foot traffic.”

   Lancaster incorporated useful elements into the map for user ease.  He created a color-coordinated legend that corresponded with various sections of the project under construction that were represented by squares.  When users clicked on a particular square it would identify the location where they were staying on the beach in a rental home.  Or if they were simply looking for the closest beach access they received updated information about the progress of the construction.

   “Keeping the map viewer updated required a focused effort to get frequent live information from the dredging contractor through the USACE construction branch to Trevor” said Castens.  “The team did a tremendous job and feedback from the towns on Oak Island and the general public were extremely positive.”

   “I think the viewer was highly beneficial to a number of parties,” Lancaster said.  “Internally at the District headquarters it was successfully used in briefings and meetings, while externally I think it provided an excellent communication tool to the public. We look forward to utilizing this platform for similar projects and applications in the future and are excited to provide additional, publicly-accessible, GIS data to our partners and stakeholders.”

   To keep tabs on the numbers of daily viewers Lancaster used a counter.  The final tally of views was 17,314 with the peak number of views of 909 on July 3rd.

   “Residents and visitors were certainly interested on the dredging progress as it related to the 4th of July week,” he said.