(Aug. 30, 2019) After a year of studying federal waters for a shoaling source that could replenish Ocean City beach, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has identified the Weaver Shoal as the city’s best bet for more sand.
Every four years or so, Ocean City needs a fresh supply of sand for its beach and dunes to protect the rest of the resort from storms. The wider beach and dune line are the first, and sometimes only, line of defense between the resort and the ocean.
The dunes are so important that damaging one is a criminal offense in Ocean City.
So when the Army Corps found Maryland’s inventory of accessible shoals depleted in 2017, it began searching for a new source farther off the beach in federal waters.
However, the Army Corps would need to update its borrow plan and its environmental impact statement from 2008, since it hadn’t dredged from federal waters for more than a decade, and because federal regulations have become stricter and more complex.
Following a year of research and community outreach, the Army Corps finished its Environmental Assessment draft, and published it on Aug. 19 on the Corps website.
To choose a shoaling location, the Army Corps focused on two factors: distance, which is tied with cost, and perceived fishing value, Army Corps spokesman Chris Gardner said.
The latter criteria was especially important as fishermen held concerns last year as to whether or not dredging so close to Ocean City would negatively affect marine life.
According to the draft, the Army Corps evaluated four locations: Shoal A, Shoal B (otherwise known as the Bass Grounds) Isle of Wight and Weaver Shoal.
The Army Corps eliminated Isle of Wight and the Bass Grounds from consideration because of their high fishing value.
Yet, there was an issue with the two choices leftover. Shoal A is located further away than Weaver Shoal, making it much more expensive to dredge. Weaver Shoal , however, has less sand than Shoal A, making it less appealing as a long-term solution.
Ocean City beach encompasses an area that requires roughly 1.07 million cubic yards of sand to replenish it, and although Weaver Shoal has 93 million cubic yards of sand, the Corps is only allowed to dredge five percent of it.
This means it can dredge about 4.65 million cubic yards from the location, meaning it will last Ocean City for roughly four dredging projects.
By comparison, Isle of Wight and Shoal A offer the Army Corps 6.8 million and 5.15 million cubic yards of sand, respectively.
Ultimately, the Army Corps chose Weaver Shoal based on its cost-effectiveness and its perceived value.
The draft reports that, for the most part, the project should have minimal consequences to marine environment, but would affect certain populations of sea animals.
“Invertebrates that would be most impacted are ones that are immobile or nearly so during at least one life stage and are thus unable to escape,” the draft said.
This would mean creatures such as moon snails and sand dollars would be at high risk of perishing during the dredging.
Additionally, young shellfish such as sea scallops, calico scallops, surf clams and ocean quahogs, which hold commercial value, would also be affected.
Nevertheless, these populations should return to pre-dredging levels within a few years, the draft said.
The draft also mentioned that rare, threatened and endangered species, namely sea turtles, could be harmed.
Since the 1990s, there have been no dredge-related injuries or deaths—takes—of sea turtles documented.
However, in 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined that this was probably because dredge screens prevented crushed remains from entering the dredge where it could be observed.
Nonetheless, the NMFS does allow incidental takes of one sea turtle per 500,000 cubic yards dredged annually.
The Army Corps projected that the dredging of Weaver Shoal would fall within this standard, and not jeopardize the sea turtle population.
“In summary, while human activities and natural process impacting the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) have changed since the 2008 Environmental Impact Study, the change in cumulative impacts to the OCS would be negligible,” the report said.