Wednesday, January 11, 2012
After two days of driving and months of anticipation, I opened the curtains of our beach front bungalow onto see rusty pipes and earth moving equipment as far as I could see in either direction. WTF!? We wandered around in a daze for awhile carrying in the rest of our stuff from the van but eventually we decided to test the waters. Most of the sand moving equipment were a mile away down by the distant pier and the area of sand between the property line and the pipe was used as their road but not very frequently so we decided we would walk across it, hop the pipe and go down to the shoreline. We got up to the pipeline before two men dressed in construction orange appeared out of no where on a John Deere Gator and stopped us in our tracks. They broke the news that the beach was closed and would be for our entire stay.
Over the course of the next couple days, we learned the why's and how's of what was happening. Due to the natural erosion of our beaches, that is currently accelerating with higher ocean levels, our government shells out tens of millions of dollars for this stretch of beach every four to five years to have it rebuilt. I'm assuming that means that it does that for many other stretches of beach. In the photo above, you can see a pier in the far left side of the picture way off in the distance. This pipe ran from where I was taking the picture all the way there and they also went the same distance in the other direction. According to the guy I talked with, that distance equaled $10 million in federal funding to rebuild and it was done almost every five years unless a hurricane necessitated a sooner rebuilding. They had been working on this stretch of beach for the past three weeks and had one week to go.
From a mine about ten miles off shore, the ship above would pump sand from a pit that contained the same quality and color of sand as what was currently on the beach. It would be pumped onto the ship above, motored to about two hundred yards from shore where it would connect itself up to the pipes in the picture above and pump it down the length to whatever section of beach they were working on at the time. The ship must have had a massive pump because it got the 3' diameter pipe under quite a bit of pressure. One evening I heard what sounded like a cannon shot and then saw an explosion of water follow that nearly took off a construction workers head who happened to be nearby. He was fortunate that it took his hard hat off his head complete with a mining light attached to the front and flipped it about twenty feet away.
At the end of the pipe, in the section of beach being rebuilt, they would dig a huge pit and push the former sandy contents into huge berms on three sides of it. The sand laden water would come gushing out in a geyser, fill the pit allowing the sand to drop out and then flow back out to the ocean from the fourth side. I'm guessing one shipload of sand could fill a pit about half the size of a football field and 8 to 10 feet deep. It was pretty impressive to see. Once the ship had emptied its load of sand into the pit, now no longer in existence, they would level out that patch of sand, add more pipe and start another section of beach.
All told, they were adding as much as six to eight feet of sand in depth by the time they reached the old shore line and extending the new shoreline another twenty or thirty yards further into the ocean. It was a lot of sand.
They graded it (with automatic GPS controlled levelers attached to their blades) flat the entire way and then left a steep shelf down to the new ocean shoreline. It made it difficult for my grandparents to get down to the water's edge.
At first I was crestfallen because our direct beach access bungalow had no beach access. Instead, we had to walk a mile along a busy four lane road missing portions of sidewalk that meant walking in the road at times, to the next beach access point not closed due to construction. Certainly not as easy and definitely not a spur of the moment jaunt I love to take. However, I do admit, that it was interesting to watch while waiting for the sun to go down and that beer to disappear down my gullet. I also enjoyed watching the guys on the Gator constantly racing here and there on the beach to run off the constant stream of people trying to invade their construction site. For two whole days the beach in front of our bungalow was closed and then they tore down the pipe and rebuilt it in the other direction and after running off more people, gave up and opened up half of their construction zone, including right in front of our bungalow, to the public. So for the last half of my week, I was able to enjoy the beach at leisure while still watching the entertainment of the beach reconstruction in progress.
On a final note, this is one of the few pictures I have a bulldozer actually moving sand. 95% of the time, these huge beasts would clank the mile plus from the end of the pipeline up to where it went into the ocean nearly in front of our bungalow, sit there for a spell, turn around and rumble back. They appeared to do this for hours on end for no apparent reason that I could determine. Occasionally they would dig one of those pits described above in about fifteen minutes, sit there for an hour while the barge unloaded sand into them, and spent the next fifteen minutes grading it. Then they would rumble back up and down the beach (in the same tracks so I know they weren't trying to pack anything) for the next three hours or so until the barge returned with another load. I would be willing to bet that the local terrace builders here in rural Iowa could move twenty times more sand in the same amount of time with much small equipment than these guys could. But since it is paid for by the government with unlimited pockets, (i.e. we taxpayers), it doesn't surprise me that they work this way.