Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beach Closed

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.


Vince said...

Where my friend is from in Belgium, every winter they bulldoze the sand back up the beach. Every winter.

R. Sherman said...

I wonder whether it's ocean levels or mammoth construction and displacement of native grasses and plants which wrecks the beach?

Also, it's nice to know we taxpayers are footing the bill to keep condo owners' property values up.


Ed said...

Vince - Is it at taxpayer expense there too?

R. Sherman - I pondered that too but decided I didn't have the experience to make a determination. I can't think of a single time that I have visited an ocean beach that hasn't been developed. In this part of Florida, there is a large dune up near the houses and above the public property line, that is covered with sea oats. I would guess in a natural state, they would extend down to the high tide line? That would certainly hold the beach a little better. This topic has certainly never been one I have thought about until now.

edifice rex said...

Sorry to have been overly touchy in the last post Ed; it's just Alabama gets crapped on so much sometimes that I get a little irritated. No excuse really but there it is. We have a lot to offer if people would look around a little.
At any rate, to answer your question about the development along roads; this is just a guess but, here all public utilities run along the roads and you have to pay a certain amount per foot to have the utilities brought up to your house. Power isn't much but water can be a huge expense if you locate far off the main road and wells can be very expensive to have drilled due to the abundance of extremely hard rock in Alabama, especially north AL. This is a major factor in why I'm not on city water but was fortunate enough to have a spring and I would guess that a lot of those large farms in Iowa are on wells. So, in earlier times, when AL was much poorer, it became common to build closer to the roads for this reason even if you own a fair amount of land. My parents did this actually. I think commercial districts were built this way for that reason and also because Alabamians realize that most people were just passing through on their way to FL or wherever but would stop to buy something if it was close to the highway.(ahem) That's why you see a lot of outlet malls etc. built this way. In a way this is good because all our really good spots (parks etc) are still in undeveloped, natural areas or the nice, metropolitan cities for the most part.
Oh, sorry your beach adventure turned out like that. Alabama has some beautiful beaches too ya know. ;)

Vince said...

Oh yeah. Otherwise the land for 50 miles would be inundated. In WW1 the Belgian king ordered the breaching of the sea wall. This halted the Schlieffen Plan in it's tracks causing the entire right of the advance to turn in on itself. And kept open the French channel ports.

It could be the same where you were, re. the inundation.

Ed said...

Edifice Rex - Iowa gets its fair share of crap too, especially just recently with Stephen Blooms Atlantic magazine piece on how we are all hicks up here.

You bring up a good probability with the poverty thing. I think I've read that Alabama is one of the poorest states in the union. Also, I got to thinking and it just may be population. Alabama has another 1.7 million people over Iowa.

You bring up another point which I've been pondering. With everything developed along the roads, who owns the middle? I've seen what I think are lots of tree plantations in southern Alabama but there seemed a lot of empty middle space up in the northern part.

I've been pushing for an Alabama gulf outing (or even other states) but my grandparents are getting up to the upper 80's and don't want to travel any further to join us.

warren said...

what a bummer that it timed out with your stay. Hey, you know sometimes those guys leave the keys in the equipment over night...just a thought

edifice rex said...

Those are basically tree plantations down south and are mostly owned by various paper mills; Kimberly-Clark etc. and some by Alabama Power. They own hundreds of thousands of acres there. Some of it is owned by lucky individuals who run hunting clubs consisting of 100's or 1,000's of acres. They often inherited the land or such. Lots of the guys I work with hunt in these clubs down there.
In north Alabama it is often individuals that own the 'middles' although I believe the TVA owns it's fair share way up at the top. Believe it or not there are a fair number of cattle ranches up in north Alabama. You just don't see them as well because the land is not flat and they purposefully leave areas by the highways forested.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I have mentioned before that I own a time share (Memorial Day) in Panama City Beach. Since I first went there twenty years ago, they have filled a lot of the area close to the beach with (now) empty condos and time shares) I really like the place.
When I first came out here in '70 I used to curse Alabama highways because they were painted with no reflective paint and if it rained after dark it was hard to see the road. Much better now.
I have a son living in Oxford Miss. (guess who he works for)so I drive from Atlanta to Birmingham and from Birmingham north,and it seems to me to be a fairly scenic router (mostly express ways or highways labeled "future expressways"

I haven't observed the "beach renourishment" around Panama City Beach, but have spent some hours watching our tax dollars at work at Savannah Beach.

Bone said...

I remember about 10-12 years ago we stayed at a hotel (before I learned about beach houses), and the beach was so eroded that there was two feet of water standing when you came off the back steps of the hotel onto the "beach."

The next year, we went back and there was suddenly 30-40 yards of gorgeous white sand between the steps and the water.

I've never seen the restoration process itself though.