Conservation Spotlight: Dunes at Shoal Harbor Shoreline Protection

Hurricane Sandy was the largest storm to ever originate in the Atlantic ocean. It badly damaged several countries in the Caribbean, caused over $50 billion in damages along the Eastern Seaboard, and left dozens dead. While hurricanes are a natural part of our climate system, research shows that intense hurricane activity has been on the rise in the North Atlantic since the 1970s. This trend is likely to be exacerbated by sea level rise and growing populations along coastlines. Natural coastal habitats — like wetlands and dunes — have proven to shield people from storms and sea-level rise, and have protected coastal communities from hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The Dunes at Shoal Harbor, a residential community in Monmouth County, New Jersey, is situated adjacent to both the Raritan Bay and the New York City Ferry channel. The site, previously utilized for industrial purposes, consisted of a partially demolished docking/berthing facility. A significantly undersized 6” diameter, 8-foot long stone revetment was also constructed on the property.

During Hurricane Sandy, the revetment failed and the community was subjected to direct wave attack and flooding. Homes were damaged, beach access was impaired, and the existing site-wide stormwater management basin and outfall was completely destroyed.

Princeton Hydro performed a wave attack analysis commensurate with a category three hurricane event, and used that data to complete a site design for shoreline protection. Consistent with the analysis, the site design includes the installation of a 15-foot rock revetment (one foot above the 100-year floodplain elevation) constructed with four-foot diameter boulders. The project also consists of replacing a failed elevated timber walkway with a concrete slab-on-grade walkway, restoring portions of the existing bulkhead, clearing invasive plants, and the complete restoration of the failed stormwater basin and outlet.

A rendering of the “Dunes at Shoal Harbor” shoreline protection design by Princeton Hydro.

The plan incorporates natural barriers to reduce the impacts of storm surges and protect the coastal community, including planting stabilizing coastal vegetation to prevent erosion and installing fencing along the dune to facilitate natural dune growth.

These measures will discourage future erosion of the shoreline, protect the residential community from future wave attacks and flooding, and create a stable habitat for native and migratory species.  The project is currently in the permitting phase, and will move to construction when all permits are obtained from local, state, and federal agencies.

This project is an great example of Princeton Hydro’s ability to coordinate multi-disciplinary projects in-house. Our Water Resources Engineering, Geosciences Engineering, and Natural Resources teams have collaborated efficiently to analyze, design, and permit this shoreline protection project. For more information on our engineering services, go here.

The Plight of Aging Dams, and One Solution

As dams age, the danger to life and property around them increases. If they were to suddenly fail and flood downstream communities and infrastructure, there would be serious loss of property and life. More and more, dam removal has become the best option for property owners who no longer want or can no longer afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain such a complex structure.

The Courier-Post recently published this Commentary piece titled, “The Plight of Aging Dams, and One Solution”, which was written by Princeton Hydro’s Vice President and Principal Engineer Geoffrey M. Goll:

Many of our nation’s dams, while originally intended to provide benefits for mills, water supply and energy generation, are severely aged and unmaintained. Nearly 20,000 of the dams on the Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams – which doesn’t even include many dams that are not inventoried or known about – were built in the 1960s. With expected lifespans of 50 years, these dams have reached their limit. And by 2020, 70 percent of all dams will be over 50 years old. Like roads and bridges, dams also require upkeep, maintenance and eventually removal or rehabilitation.

As dams age, the danger to life and property around them increases. If they were to suddenly fail and flood downstream communities and infrastructure, there would be loss of property and life. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials, the professional organization for dam safety engineering professionals and regulators, estimates there would need to be a $21 billion investment to repair just 2,000 deficient, high-hazard dams. More and more, the removal of dams has become an option for owners who no longer want or no longer can afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain such a complex structure.

For dams like this, removal benefits local economies, and eliminates threats to people and property in local communities. There are also many byproduct benefits, including restoring fish migration routes, improving water quality, restoring floodplain functions and values, and increasing biodiversity.

On Sept. 8, we had the honor of meeting the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a visit of our Hughesville Dam removal project on the Musconetcong River, located in northwestern New Jersey. This project exemplifies the successes that can be achieved through public-private partnerships, including local communities, state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private commercial entities. This is the fifth dam removed on the Musconetcong River by a coalition of stakeholders, led by the Musconetcong Watershed Association. The Department of the Interior (specifically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) provided funding to remove this very old, out-of-compliance dam.

The success of these partnerships is due to the unique strengths that each organization brings to the table. This project achieved the removal of a flood and safety hazard, and will restore additional river miles for migratory fish, improve water quality by removing the heat sink of the reservoir, and provide additional safe passage for recreation along the river.

It is easy to see why Secretary Jewell chose this site to visit, but the old and outdated dam at Hughesville is far from alone. Across the nation, we need to remove dams like this at a much larger scale – aging dams that no longer are of value to us, but increase the danger to those who live downstream. If we can build on this momentum and start to address the issue of dam safety compliance on a national scale, we can address these threats to American’s safety and strengthen local economies.