RACE Coastal Engineering’s award-winning South Benson Marina Dredging & Beach Nourishment Project
In May 2020, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) announced Jennings Beach in Fairfield, CT as a winner of the America’s 2020 Best Restored Beaches Award. The award comes following the more than 27,000 cubic yards of sand that was hydraulically pumped onto the beach this past winter as part of a maintenance dredging project for the adjacent South Benson Marina. The national award highlights the crucial role that beach restoration projects like this play to local recreation, economies, ecosystems and shoreline protection.
“This year’s Best Restored Beach winners represent a wide variety of beach types that offer unique and varied attributes. I congratulate the winners for their hard work and for the beautiful beaches they have protected and enhanced,” said ASBPA President Tony Pratt. “For more than 50 years, beach restoration has been the preferred method of shore protection in coastal communities. Beach restoration is the process of placing beach-quality sand on dwindling beaches to reverse or offset the effects of erosion.”
As the South Benson Marina entrance channel was shoaling in to the point where safe vessel transit to and from the marina was limited during periods of low water, the Town of Fairfield contracted RACE Coastal Engineering (RACE) of Stratford, CT to develop and implement a dredging strategy. South Benson provides seasonal slips for over 600 residents’ boats as well as year-round docking for state and local emergency and conservation vessels. The marina’s boat ramps, fishing pier, picnic areas, and the adjacent Town maintained Jennings Beach (which includes kayak and catamaran racks) make this area the heart of the community’s recreational, water-dependent activity.
With the close proximity of the channel to Jennings Beach, RACE recognized a “win-win” opportunity to reuse the dredged material to restore and nourish the Beach while at the same time clearing the channel for safe navigation.
For the work to be permitted, the dredge material would need to meet both chemical analytical testing requirements and be compatible with that of the native beach sand characteristics; otherwise the material would need to be relocated offshore by barges, or to an inland location by trucks, significantly increasing costs and forever losing a valuable sand resource. Following receipt of acceptable sediment testing results and specific, documented steps to protect habitats and ecosystems, the dredging and beach nourishment project was approved by the State and Federal regulatory agencies during the summer of 2019.
By winter, a plan was in place for the project to take shape. RACE worked with the Town, ecological specialists and the dredging contractor, Mobile Dredging and Video Pipe, Inc. of Chester, PA, to hydraulically dredge the material from the seabed and pump it, at times some 2,000 feet, onto the beach via a 10-inch pipeline. Dozers and other earthmoving track equipment then distributed and graded the material to final form.
“It was quite the process to see first-hand,” said RACE Project Manager Steve Sternberg. “In Connecticut, and throughout most of Long Island Sound, dredging is typically conducted by mechanical means with a crane and clamshell. The muds are fine-grained in nature, and there is rarely a practical means by which the dredged material can be managed other than through offshore relocation. The channel bottom characteristics and proximity to Jennings Beach allowed us to pursue something really unique and highlight the potential for beneficial reuse alternatives for dredged material in the region.”
To enter the Best Restored Beach competition, coastal communities nominated their projects for consideration, and an independent panel of coastal managers and scientists selected the winners based on the project’s economic and ecological benefits, the challenges overcome, and the short- and long-term success of the project. In addition to South Benson Marina/Jennings Beach, four other projects were awarded: Cardiff State Beach (CA), Keansburg (NJ), Norriego Point (FL) and Tybee Island (GA).
Last fall, the Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE) presented RACE the 2020 Achievement in Civil Engineering (ACE) Award for this South Benson Marina Dredging & Beach Nourishment project (<$5 million construction value category). The ACE Awards honor the design and construction achievements of Connecticut civil engineers. CSCE is a section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Celebrating 20 years, RACE Coastal Engineering provides coastal, structural, geotechnical and regulatory consultation and design to residents, recreational facilities, municipalities and commercial properties throughout the Northeast and beyond. To learn more, call 203-377-0663 or visit racecoastal.com. ■