Reprinted from Island Free Press
Rough weather has repeatedly delayed the Buxton beach nourishment project, and now the contractor is expected to ask Dare County for an extension of its contract.
During a presentation at the Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, Haiqing Kaczkowski with Coastal Science and Engineering, the firm overseeing the project for the county, told the board that numerous storms from late August into October made ocean conditions off the project area too dangerous for the dredge to work for 50 days.
“The average wave height is above the threshold” for the dredge to have operated safely, Kaczkowski said.
The original completion date of the $22.15 million project was Dec. 15, she said, but because of weather challenges, the contractor is proposing to extend the completion date to mid-February. Of the total 2.6 million cubic yards of sand to be pumped on 2.9 miles of shoreline, as of Nov. 6 about 1.2 million cubic yards, or 46 percent, have been placed.
With another storm headed to the Outer Banks on Monday, Weeks Marine took the hopper dredge to Norfolk for repairs and refueling, and will return when the weather improves. Before it left, the dredge was working near Lighthouse View motel.
The company plans to replace the current dredge, the R.N. Weeks, with a new hopper dredge, the Magdalen, in January. Kackowski said the Magdalen has more than double the capacity of the older dredge.
“So we are moving forward to the finish line,” she said. “If Weeks can continue at the same rate, we can reach it by mid-February.”
But Kaczkowski acknowledged that the larger dredge still has a shallow draft and would be subject to similar wave height limitations. Plus, winter storms can be just as problematic as summer’s tropical storms.
Wally Overman, board vice-chair, challenged the contractor’s explanation for the number of missed work days. Kackowski explained that there is a lack of historical data on wave heights at the project borrow site – the offshore source of the pumped sand – and the nearest place with data buoys is Diamond Shoals. According to data from StormGeo, an advanced weather forecast company, there were higher than average waves at Buxton from July to October.
“The point is that Weeks knew,” Overman said about wave heights off Cape Hatteras.
But Dare County Manager Bobby Outten interrupted, making it clear that the county was not ready to discuss interpretation of the contractual requirements.
“I hate to get in a debate about what that means or doesn’t mean,” he responded.
The dredge contract includes a clause that allows for delays due to “abnormal weather conditions” and other factors out of the contractor’s control. Another provision calls for the contractor to pay $10,000 a day in “liquidated damages” to the county for each day of delay.
Kaczkowski said that she anticipates that Weeks will soon approach the county with a written proposal to extend the contract. If the parties agree, the contractor would work whenever weather permitted, including non-stop over holidays.
Forecasts so far from StormGeo for after the New Year are giving Commissioner Danny Couch, who represents Hatteras Island, some reason for hope.
“I’m going to hold out that the prognosis for the winter will be good for us,” he said. “I will stay positive that we will be able to keep rolling.”
Commissioner Steve House asked why two dredges couldn’t work at the same time to make up for lost time. But Outten said that when that option was raised during the weekly construction meetings, it was decided that it was not possible because of prior commitments for dredges.
“Short of taking a shoe and hitting it on the table, we’ve pressed them as hard as we could on those questions,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot we can do other than the screaming and kicking we’ve been doing all along.”
“It’s beyond frustrating,” House responded.
In a later telephone interview, Outten said that as of Wednesday, the county has not received any proposal from Weeks for a contract extension, meaning that current provisions still apply.
“Until we hear from them, and until we talk,” he said, “I don’t want to talk about what our legal position will or will not be.”
Outten said that during the weekly meetings with the contractor, it became obvious that the project was behind, but they had continued to say they would be able to “get it done.” But in the last couple of weeks it became apparent that the completion date could not be met.
Still, Outten is confident that the project will be completed, one way or another.
“The only question is when is it going to be finished,” he said, “and how are the provisions of the contract going to be applied?”
This story is provided courtesy of the Island Free Press, a digital newspaper covering Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Free Press to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along our coast.