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Beaches: DeBordieu owners seek state seawall permit

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A group of DeBordieu property owners have applied for state permits to build a seawall along a third of a mile of beachfront. It will sit 2 feet in front of and 3 feet higher than an existing wall that dates to the early 1980s.

The state doesn’t allow construction of new seawalls, but a proviso added to the state budget last year by Sen. Ray Cleary allows for “reconstruction or repair” of any seawall over 4,000 feet in length on a beach with an active renourishment project that isn’t eligible for public funding. The existing wall at DeBordieu is 4,500 feet, a beach nourishment project began this year funded by property owners within the gated community.

The DeBordieu Beach Bulkhead Organization was formed to fund the new seawall, which is proposed for 1,800 feet along southernmost end of the current wall. The group doesn’t plan to build the wall for “several years,” according to its application, because the beach nourishment project has covered the existing wall with sand. But it notes, “the existing bulkhead was not designed for the exposure or longevity that it is currently experiencing. In contrast to the existing wall, the proposed seawall is designed to withstand the reasonably expected environmental loadings at the site, typical for present-day oceanfront construction.”

Tyler Dunlap, the agent for the bulkhead organization, could not be reached for comment.

“The proposed bulkhead is necessarily of larger and sturdier construction,” the application says.

“We think it is wrong,” said Nancy Cave, director of the North Coast office of the Coastal Conservation Association. Cleary’s proviso followed an unsuccessful effort to amend the Beachfront Management Act to allow the seawall. “If built, we will see a proliferation of seawalls. It would be hard once you have this precedent,” she said.

A 2013 study of long-term trends by Coastal Science and Engineering found that the southern end of DeBordieu lost an average of 8 to 10 cubic yards of sand a year between 1980 and 2000. Over a million cubic yards of sand was placed on the beach during that time, and the north end of DeBordieu has accreted.

The current project placed 650,000 cubic yards of offshore sand on the beach. That will cover the southern portion of the wall. But the wall has typically risen about 8 feet above the beach at low tide, according to Applied Technology and Management, the firm that designed the new seawall. The replacement will be 11 feet above the beach under similar conditions with wood pilings driven 30 feet below the sand.

The proviso that allows reconstruction requires the new wall to be of the same timber material. It allows it to extend 2 feet in front of the existing wall.

“It’s basically being built on the public beach,” Cave said.

The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management will take comments on the permit application through May 1. The conservation league and its attorneys are still reviewing the application. “There are a whole lot of things to look at,” Cave said. “It’s a slippery slope.”

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