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Up and down the coast, beaches see significant erosion, even though worst-case scenarios didn’t materialize.
On the north end of Carolina Beach, wooden staircases that once led from beach houses to the strand itself now give way to several feet of air, a result of Hurricane Florence’s battering waves eroding the beach.
“We ended up losing significant portions of the beach, 10- to 12-foot escarpments in some places,” said Michael Cramer, Carolina Beach’s town manager, speaking of the cliffs carved into sand that can make it difficult to get on or off the beach.
Carolina Beach isn’t alone, with officials up and down the region saying their beaches, the area’s most valuable tourism asset, have suffered significant damage. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been assessing local beaches to determine the storm’s impact and will discuss its findings at a Sunday press briefing.
In Pender County, Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin met with U.S. Representative David Rouzer on Saturday, giving him a tour of the area. The town, Medlin said, lost a significant amount of oceanfront beach, with sand that was once part of dunes being washed as far away as Second Street.
Surf City has hired a contractor to restore the sand to the strand.
“What they’ll have to do,” Medlin said, “is get all the sand, and then they’ll have to sift that sand and make sure they’ve got all the trash out of it and then get it back on the beach.”
Among the topics Medlin and other Surf City leaders discussed with Rouzer was the possibility of a beach nourishment project for Surf City, which has been requesting the work for about 15 years but never had the project completed.
Cin Brochure, the mayor of Oak Island, was working Saturday at Operation Air Drop at the Cape Fear Regional Jetport when she paused for a minute to discuss the state of the town. There was some erosion and a significant amount of debris, Brochure said, but she said the town was in fair condition overall.
Earlier this year, the town conducted a nourishment project to repair dunes damaged during 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. Those dunes, Brochure said, fared well during Florence.
“They held up better than anticipated,” Brochure said. “We didn’t know what was coming or how long it was going to be here, but we got really lucky and were on the back side of the winds, and they really withstood the test.”
Still, Oak Island staff have not yet flown over the beach because they are still in response mode to the hurricane and related issues. Once staff is able to take a longer look at the beach, Brochure said she expects to have a more detailed report.
Carolina and Kure beaches are scheduled to begin an $18.8 million round of beach nourishment in December.
Earlier this year, Wrightsville Beach completed its own $9.4 million beach nourishment project. While the beach was certainly damaged by Florence’s storm surge, Tim Owens, the town’s manager, said the additional sand helped lessen damage to property.
“A lot of the beachfront, the actual beach that was out there, is underwater now at high tide,” Owens said. “We just had a beach nourishment cycle. It did its job. We didn’t have a lot of overwash that I saw.”
Owens floated the possibility of asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund additional sand for Wrightsville when Carolina and Kure beach have their renourishment later this year.
Still, Owens acknowledged the idea was preliminary, saying, “It’s still early in the cycle.”
While Owens said he has not yet ridden the length of the beach, he said the damage is likely similar to that caused by Hurricane Matthew, which caused erosion when it hit the area in 2016.
Some leaders, such as Cramer of Carolina Beach, anticipated Florence making an impact on the area but were struck at just how significant the storm turned out to be, particularly in terms of escarpments.
“We knew that we would have high storm surge and that would most likely take quite a bit of sand,” Cramer said. “But it was surprising to see it at the height that it was. Normally, we see escarpments after a storm that are five, six feet at the most, so it was surprising to see it doubled.”
Reporter Adam Wagner can be reached at 910-343-2389 or Adam.Wagner@GateHouseMedia.com.