The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced on August 5 that it had authorized the use of outer continental shelf sand for the Shoreline Restoration and Infrastructure Protection Program project at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island off the mid-Atlantic coast.
Wallops Island is one of a cluster of small islands huddled against the Virginia coastline near the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. It is inside the barrier formed by Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge – a large barrier island. Wallops Island is separated from the peninsula only by a small stream. Part of NASA’s facility is on the peninsular mainland. BOEMRE is the federal agency in charge of rights to mine and use continental shelf sand. To date according to its Web site BOEMRE has conveyed rights to about 56 million cubic yards of continental shelf sand for 29 coastal restoration projects in five states. These projects BOEMRE claims have resulted in the restoration of 167 miles of the nation’s coastline. Some of them were done on an emergency basis where imminent breaching of barrier islands was prevented by the rapid placement of OCS sand.
Most of these projects used sand previously identified by the BOEMRE through its cooperative sand evaluation program with coastal states. BOEMRE signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with NASA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge nearly 3.2 million cubic yards of OCS sand for construction of the project. The sand will replenish the entire 3.7 miles of the Wallops Flight Facility shoreline. The launch facility is owned by NASA and is also used by the U.S. Navy and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The facility includes launch pads for NASA and Department of Defense rockets along with Spaceport pads for commercial satellite launches. For safety reasons launch pads need to be located as close to the coast as possible and the coastline must be maintained to prevent storm damage to the facilities.
BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich said “The bureau’s Marine Minerals Program provides OCS sand resources that help reduce the effects of erosion and enhance the integrity of our nation’s shoreline. This MOA is an example of the ways in which federal agencies are cooperating to restore and protect the infrastructure of critical U.S. government facilities.” Through the MOA the Norfolk Engineer District will dredge the sand from an area in federal waters approximately 12 miles from the project site. The project also includes extending an existing seawall by an additional 4600 feet southward.
Planning for this project began in 2006 and BOEMRE (then the Minerals Management Service) cooperated with NASA in the National Environmental Policy Act review process. A draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was completed in February 2010 and a final PEIS was completed in November 2010. NASA prepared a Record of Decision (ROD) in December 2010 and requested use of OCS sand resources. BOEMRE reviewed these documents and prepared its own ROD in support of the use of OCS sand in February 2011. The project is expected to begin in early September.