Cape Lookout National Seashore Superintendent Jeff West has been watching for weeks as a Louisiana-based company gets ready at the seashore’s visitor center on Harkers Island to begin maintenance dredging in the nearby waterways.
Next Generation Logistics, the company contracted for the work, will not only make the channels to the federally protected barrier islands safter and more accessible, but the suitable sand that’s dredged during the project will be used for beach nourishment to protect Cape Lookout Lighthouse and nearby historic structures from continual, soundside erosion.
Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Specialist Emily Winget said Wednesday that the company, which was awarded the contract in November for $6.9 million, plans to mobilize two cutter-suction pipeline dredges to work on this contract and had planned to begin work by the end of January.
But because of issues, like weather impacts to mobilization, the contract has not started dredging, she said. “We anticipate that dredging will start next week,” referring to the week of Feb. 5.
The Department of Defense Operation and Maintenance Funds, National Park Service, state and Carteret County are “all project stakeholders helping to cover the cost of this project. In addition to providing navigation access through Lookout Bight this maintenance dredging will help ensure access to Cape Lookout National Seashore. Dredging the channel is critical for safe and consistent access to frequently visited areas at Cape Lookout National Seashore. Once dredging is complete, the channel will be open to commercial boats and deep draft vessels,” Winget wrote in an email response.
The suitable material dredged during the course of the project will be placed on the interior beach next to National Park Service structures, including the lighthouse. The remaining material will be added to an open water placement island, being called Sandbag Island, to contain the dredge material and provide habitat for nesting shore birds.
“The preservation of our coast is of paramount importance to us in Carteret County,” County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jimmy Farrington said in November when the contract was announced. “This project not only ensures the safety and accessibility of our waterways but also reaffirms our commitment to the environment. We are proud to partner with the National Park Service and the State of North Carolina to undertake this project, ensuring that the Cape Lookout National Seashore remains a natural treasure for generations to come.”
Winget said the estimated cost to dredge 165,000 cubic yards in the federal fixed channel in Back Sound is around $3.2 million and another 30,000 cubic yards will be dredged through the inlet for $585,00.
To dredge the 8,000 cubic yards in the channel used to approach the passenger ferry dock where the lighthouse is located is expected to come in at $156,000. Sandbag Island is expected to cost about $910,000 to create.
Other costs include the $1.8 million to set up for the project and then demobilize after.
The route used by the passenger ferry between Harkers Island visitor center and the lighthouse has the most amount of sand, West explained in a recent interview, and that will be pumped over the Bird Island. They’ll use geotextile tubes, much like elongated sandbags, to hold the sand in place.
Getting the project off the ground has taken six or seven years, West said, with the COVID-19 pandemic being one of the delays.
He said that the National Park Service worked with the Army Corps of Engineers, state and county to work together to manage the funds for the property.
Once the funding was in place, the first thing they had to do was get through the environmental assessment process, which took about a year. The environmental assessment was put out for public comment in April 2023 to give state and federal agencies, organizations and the public a chance to weigh in and address those comments. The finding of no significant impact was then released September 2023, and the contract announced in November.
He said the sense of urgency comes from the fact that the channels are filling in, and it’s been getting worse over the years. That’s a main public access to Cape Lookout from the Park Service visitor center on Harkers Island. It’s also an important channel for a lot of private and commercial users.
He expounded that the sand dredged will be placed at the beach by the lighthouse complex, which is where the passenger ferry docks. Between the lighthouse and the shoreline are the Keepers Quarters and the summer kitchen. The summer kitchen right now is right at the high-tide line and the Keepers Quarters is about 30 to 35 feet from the high-tide line.
“It will take “roughly 34,000 to 38,000 cubic yards” and will stretch from 150 to 200 yards north of the lighthouse complex to 200 yards 250 yards south, West said. “Depends on how much sand is compatible with the beach there and then it will be graded out to match the current profile.”
The next phase, if the funds are available sometime in the near future, will be to put in a living shoreline or another type of device to try to hold that sand in place this time. “As opposed to how we did in 2006,” he said, referring to a beach nourishment project, “people really weren’t thinking about using living shorelines at the time.”
Right now, the deadline to finish the work is April 1, because of marine wildlife protections, but they could apply for an extension. Once they start dredging operations are supposed to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
West added that they’re allowing the contractors to stage at the visitor center to help with logistics and the company has secured housing on Harkers Island.
The company anticipates having about 5,000 feet of pipe out at any given time, he said. They have a 10-inch pipe and 18-inch pipe and depending on the volume, they’re moving, they’ll use whatever is appropriate.
When it’s completed and opened back up the channel it will be a 7- to 9-foot-deep channel and will be 100 feet wide. “I mean, it’ll be the cat’s meow as far as getting back and forth,” between Harkers Island and the lighthouse, West said.