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Building Coastal Resilience With OCS Sand Resources
Managing Shores for the Long Term


Renee Orr

William Yancey Brown

Coastal restoration projects have lowered the risk to valuable infrastructure, such as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport-owned-and-operated Pad 0-A, used to launch the Antares rocket (right), to resupply the International Space Station. (Photo Credit: NASA)
Coastal resilience is a term we hear often, especially after Hurricane Sandy. This prompts some to ask, 'How can we make our coasts more resilient?'

As the nation's steward of offshore energy and nonenergy mineral resources, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is making tangible contributions to building coastal resilience. For more than two decades, BOEM's Marine Minerals Program (MMP) has been a central player in coastal restoration by granting access to sand resources from the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). BOEM agreements and partnerships with federal agencies, states and coastal communities enable us to provide sand to restore beaches, wetlands and dunes. These efforts help to reduce the impacts of hurricanes, nor'easters and long-term erosion on vulnerable property, infrastructure and habitat. Our goal is to contribute to the nation's environmental, economic and recreational well-being through safely completed, sustainable projects.

BOEM is the only agency authorized to grant access to OCS sand and has seen an increased number of requests for this resource in recent years, due to stronger and more frequent storms and the depletion of suitable resources from state waters for restoration projects. Hurricane Sandy, in October 2012, intensified the demand and stimulated broader federal-state-private sector collaboration, which encouraged a change in perspective from a project-by-project approach to broader regional approaches and more concerted efforts to build resilience for the long term.

The MMP is also actively leasing OCS material for Gulf of Mexico coastal restoration projects for Louisiana barrier island shorelines battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Gustav in 2008, and Isaac in 2012, and shorelines impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon event.

BOEM does not conduct the dredging or undertake the construction, although OCS sand supports much of that work. As of June 2014, with more than 20 years of OCS sand management experience, BOEM had provided OCS sand resources to complete 45 projects and convey more than 85 million cubic yards of material to coastal communities. That amount of sand would cover all of the island of Manhattan, New York, to a depth of 2.4 feet. Currently, almost 20 other projects are planned or in the construction phase on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. With the additional funding BOEM received from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, the MMP is working with 13 coastal states affected by Sandy and conducting a study to collect geophysical and geological data to identify new potential sources of OCS sand. These efforts will allow BOEM to meet growing demands for OCS sand for future coastal resilience projects.

Some may think that OCS sand for coastal restoration is infinite. It is not. Sand characteristics, such as the size and color of the grains, have to be a good match for the native material on the beaches, dunes or wetlands. If grain size is too small, the beach erodes quickly; if it is too coarse, it is difficult to maintain and does not support natural seasonal sediment movement. Sea turtle conservationists try to match sand used in replenishment with the sand originally present at nesting beaches, on the premise that turtles may be adapted to, or in any event, best supported by the kind of sand where their nesting has historically occurred. In addition, the cost of bringing sand from the OCS to shore increases dramatically the further out it is located.

To the casual observer, the sand is abundant and not very interesting. But to geologists and natural resource managers, coastal sand is part of a dynamic system that moves along shore and offshore. The bureau conducts environmental studies and assessments before and after dredging activities to understand changes in the sand-borrow area. BOEM recognizes that dredging activities potentially result in impacts on marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, benthic organisms and other parts of the ecosystem. Therefore these activities are carefully managed to avoid and minimize effects. Studies also cover potential impacts from changes in the shape of submerged sand ridges, such as possible changes in ocean currents. On balance, completed projects do restore nearshore habitat.

BOEM's Hurricane Sandy Response
To help coastal communities recover from Hurricane Sandy, promote resilient coastal systems, and facilitate long-term planning, BOEM has been implementing the recovery program envisioned under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. BOEM received $13.6 million under the legislation for Hurricane Sandy response to evaluate OCS sand resources, fund state cooperative agreements, supplement broad-scale environmental monitoring and gain stakeholder input.

During the first half of 2014, BOEM is executing cooperative agreements with 13 Atlantic Coast states from Maine to Florida to evaluate and consolidate data held by various state geological surveys. While each agreement is slightly different, the common denominator is that they will evaluate existing offshore sand resource data and identify data gaps. Delaware, for example, will consolidate data from older paper maps and databases, and integrate the data with modern geographic information systems (GIS) tools to create Web tools and new maps of offshore sand resources for use by both state and federal portals. Massachusetts will evaluate sand resource needs at 22 public beaches along the coast, establishing baseline characteristics for the first time and providing the data needed for future restoration planning. BOEM's efforts complement new Department of the Interior initiatives announced by Secretary Sally Jewell in June 2014 to provide $102.7 million in competitive matching grants to support 54 projects along the Atlantic Coast. Ultimately, BOEM activities and other DOI actions will help states with recovery, habitat restoration, and long-term preparedness and resilience planning.

BOEM has already conveyed sand for restoration of shorelines impacted by Sandy at several locations.

Sandbridge Beach, in Conjunction With the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Using 2.2 million cubic yards of OCS sand, the City of Virginia Beach and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed a beachfront restoration project on Sandbridge Beach that was underway before Hurricane Sandy.

Brevard County, Florida, in Conjunction With USACE. The project restored nearly 14 miles of shoreline, using much of the 2.4 million cubic yards BOEM authorized to cover two stretches'from the City of Cape Canaveral to Cocoa Beach, and from Melbourne Beach to Indialantic.

Brevard County, Florida. BOEM is monitoring the long-term effects of dredging shoals on fish and benthic communities with two studies ($2.4 million total) offshore Cape Canaveral with the University of Florida and the U.S. Navy. These studies will provide BOEM with valuable information on the use, impacts and recovery of OCS sand resource areas so that it can better plan use of these valuable and finite resources. To continue this article please click here.

Renee Orr, chief of BOEM's Office of Strategic Resources, oversees development and implementation of the nation's offshore oil and gas and marine mineral leasing programs on the Outer Continental Shelf. The Marine Minerals Program assesses and provides access to critical sand resources for shore and wetlands restoration and resiliency projects.

William Yancey Brown, BOEM's chief environmental officer, oversees BOEM's environmental program, including NEPA compliance, environmental studies and environmental reviews, for offshore conventional and renewable energy development, and the Marine Minerals Program on the Outer Continental Shelf. Brown, a scientist and lawyer, has experience in the government, nonprofit and private sectors.

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