When it Comes to Inlet Management, 'Do No Harm'
FORT MYERS, FL - An inlet is a narrow entrance into a coastline that connects open waters to backwaters or estuaries. Inlets are important navigation channels that frequently need to be dredged to maintain the reliability of the channel and keep the sand from being lost to the beach system. This happens because inlets disrupt the flow of sand along our coastlines.
When it comes to policies that govern the management of inlets, coastal engineers say it all boils down to one theme: "Do no harm."
"The ultimate goal when managing inlets is to mimic what nature would have done as closely as possible," says Phillip Roehrs, water resources engineer for the city of Virginia Beach, VA.
Although it sounds rational, operating by this philosophy can be challenging for two reasons - jurisdiction and property ownership.
Jurisdiction issues can arise when an inlet and one adjacent beach is located within one locality, but another locality owns the beach on the other side of the inlet. "Generally, what can happen in this situation is that one side of the inlet gets a wide beach, because the jurisdiction that owns the inlet dredges it and puts the sand on their side," Roehrs explained.
The problem is this approach starves the other side of the inlet. Roehrs says the goal of inlet management is to reproduce sand flow as if the inlet were not there by mimicking the natural flow of sand across the inlet. Coastal engineers accomplish this through dredging, sand bypassing and other manmade methods.
The other inlet management issue is property ownership. If one side of the inlet is public property but the other side is private property, similar challenges exist. "Generally a public entity will not spend money to put a valuable resource such as sand onto private property," Roehrs said.
In cases like this, one solution is for the public entity to obtain a public recreation easement in order to put sand on the "private" side of the inlet. A public recreation easement would allow access and use of the sandy beach by the public, and facilitate proper inlet management by eliminating a barrier to the use of the public sand resource.
Roehrs and other coastal experts say the best philosophy is to take a regional approach toward sand management. "You have to be careful not to overload one side of the inlet and starve the other side," he explained. "It is a better approach to share the sand between both sides of the inlet to balance the resource."
(Printed Courtesy of American Shore & Beach Preservation Association.)
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