In a behind-the-scenes effort to secure and protect beach-quality sand, Caswell Beach has quietly issued another challenge toward other communities harvesting sand from Jay Bird Shoals. Caswell town officials expect an update on the issue from engineering consultants at their regular December 9 meeting at 5 p.m.

Utilizing its permit, Bald Head Island withdrew sand from the shoals in 2019 to protect a terminal groin and enhance parts of South Beach. Last year, Oak Island took sand from the shoals for part of its eastern beach area not earlier renourished by a larger harbor dredging project.

Now, Oak Island is poised to pull 658,000 cubic yards of sand from the shoals for the western end of its badly battered beach at a cost of about $17.5-million, mostly paid for with government emergency funds. For reference, a standard dump truck holds about 10 cubic yards.

Jay Bird Shoals is a wide, obvious spit of sand near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The question being raised by Caswell Beach and others is: how much sand can be taken before it affects erosion on the east side of Caswell Beach (Fort Caswell) and even farther inland at Southport? The concern is that removal of sand could accelerate wave action and erosion on landward areas.

Mayor Deborah Ahlers said she was not happy with the process and the lack of notification to Caswell Beach with regards to pulling sand from Jay Bird Shoals.

Concerns noted to the state

In a letter to state officials, Caswell Beach Town Administrator Jeff Griffin laid out some of the issues.

“The Town of Oak Island conducted a beach fill project in April and May 2021, which removed approximately 885,000 (cubic yards) of material … Following construction of the project, Caswell Beach property owners expressed concerns to the town staff and officials regarding scarping observed along the beach approximately 0.5 miles west of the Oak Island Lighthouse.”

The letter also stated Caswell Beach asked for additional documentation about the Oak Island project and was told that post-construction surveys would not be done until spring 2022. The Oak Island permit apparently included additional sand and did not address additional beach profile surveys along Caswell Beach between the spring 2021 and proposed January 2022 dredge events.

The letter further states that Oak Island was allowed to harvest additional sand without prior notice to Caswell Beach, and Caswell was not informed as to whether beach monitoring occurred and the results of monitoring, if any.

“We will continue to work directly with our neighboring communities to ensure that their actions do not adversely affect our beach,” Griffin wrote. “However, we ask that in the future, the town … be considered an adjacent stakeholder and provided a direct notification within (Jay Bird Shoals).”

Oak Island officials said they had done what was promised and surveys showed no negative impacts on Caswell Beach.

Oak Island’s consultants surveyed the shoreline in March 2021 and October 2021, with dredging occurring in April and May of 2021, a town official stated.

“The results show that while mean high water line shoreline position oscillates between accretion and erosion …volume changes along the beach profile …show a consistent trend of accreation (gain) in front of the Town of Caswell Beach.

“The Town of Oak Island is committed to continue annual monitoring of the conditions of the beach as set in the permit and will finalize these results once they have gone through internal review processes.”

Oak Island’s new project is slated to include preparation in December, which includes putting a series of large metal pipes along portions of the beach west of Middleton Avenue. Dredging is expected to start in January and will involve one or more hopper dredges, which scoop up sand and move it to the pipeline areas for offloading.