James R. Houston, 2022. “Beach nourishment provides resilient protection for critical coastal infrastructure“, Shore & Beach, 90(2), 19-32.
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Beach nourishment provides resilient protection for critical coastal infrastructure
James R. Houston
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, 3909 Halls Ferry Road, Vicksburg, MS 39180
Hurricanes this century have produced almost a trillion dollars in damages in the U.S., often to critical infrastructure that requires large costs and unacceptable times to repair or replace. There is a need for resilient protection of critical infrastructure where the protection must have the “ability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and/or rapidly recover from a potentially disruptive event” and be cost-effective. Coastal infrastructure can be protected by moving infrastructure back from the ocean (retreat), building protective structures, or by beach nourishment to effectively move the ocean back from the infrastructure. Retreat is very costly and highly unpopular on developed shores. Structures are expensive and lack resilience because their failure is usually catastrophic and repair slow. Beach nourishment is the favored protection option on developed shorelines because it significantly reduces infrastructure damage, provides resilient protection, and is cost effective with a high return on investment.
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy provided an example of the tremendous reduction of infrastructure damage due to beach nourishment. Dr. Stewart Farrell, director of the Coastal Research Center in New Jersey, reported: “It really, really works. Where there was a federal beach fill in place, there was no major damage — no homes destroyed. Where there was no beach nourishment, the destruction was complete. Older homes were ripped from foundations and tossed about.” A post-Sandy analysis showed that Corps of Engineers’ beach nourishment projects saved an estimated $1.3 billion in avoided damages.
Beach nourishment provides resilient protection. It is partially self-healing, because during a storm some of the sand moves to offshore bars where it causes waves to break and reduces infrastructure damage, and then much of it returns to shore after the storm passes. It can be repaired relatively rapidly by use of a mobile dredge to replace net sand loss. It is a highly adaptable approach to climate change because its rate of sand placement can be varied to raise profiles to offset increased sea level rise. Beach nourishment pays for itself as nice, wide beaches sit in readiness to protect critical coastal infrastructure from storms, while in the meantime, tourists typically generate more than $100 in taxes annually to local, state, and the federal governments for every $1 these governments invest in beach nourishment.