Repairing the Beach After Sandy

  • Posted 11.28.13
  • NOVA

Coney Island has a long history of beach nourishment—the process of adding sand to a coastal area to repair an eroded beach. It was the site of the first beach nourishment project ever in the 1920s, and in the months since Hurricane Sandy, a new beach nourishment project has begun. But will it still make sense to repair the beach in another few decades?

Running Time: 02:55


Repairing the Beach After Sandy

November 28, 2013

NARRATOR: What a wild ride. Five months after the cyclone called Sandy hit New York, they opened the other Cyclone: the roller coaster at Coney Island.

CHUCK SCHUMER: We have here something that shows the resilience of New York. Anybody who doubts that New York would not come back bigger and better and stronger after Sandy, well, we have erased those doubts today with the great reopening of Coney Island and Luna Park.

NARRATOR: Democrat Chuck Schumer is New York’s senior senator. While he was speaking, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was gearing up to bring back the beach at Coney Island. A $48 million project paid with federal funding.

DAN FALT: Hurricane Sandy stole more than 1.5 million cubic yards of sand from this beach. We’re beginning a project that ultimately will replace 3.5 million cubic yards of sand.

NARRATOR: It is called beach nourishment. It is widely used all over the country—in places where rising seas and subsiding land threaten beaches. It is an effective—but temporary—way to protect coastal property and preserve sunny days at the beach.

Dan Falt is Project Manager with the Corps of Engineers New York District.

DAN FALT: We could basically fill two-and-a-half Empire State buildings with the amount of sand we’re going to place in this five mile stretch.

NARRATOR: The scale is large, but the concept is simple: a dredging barge anchors near a good source of sand offshore and pumps it on to the beach. Bulldozers spread and smooth things out.

DAN FALT: This sand right now is being pumped from three miles away through pipes submerged under water and basically pumped onto the beach. It picks it up off the bottom of the ocean and it’s pumped in a slurry, and bulldozers move it around and place it to the proper grade.

NARRATOR: Coney Island is where it all began. The first beach nourishment project ever happened here in in the early 1920s. But will they be pumping sand on this beach 90 years from now? It is a matter of charting the high cost versus the benefits.

JOE VIETRI: The curves start going like this where the costs go way up, the benefits start coming way down. But we do have 25, 30 years to make those decisions.

NARRATOR: Joe Vietri is the Director of the Corps National Planning Center of Expertise for Coastal and Storm Risk Management.

JOE VIETRI: You have to be able to adapt to this very changing future scenario. The bottom line for us to think about it is it makes a lot of sense to put sand on the beach in Rockaways right now. It makes a lot of sense to look at providing protection both on the bay and the ocean side right now. But I would not suggest to you that 30 years from now or 35 years from now that that might still make a lot of sense.



Produced, Written, and Directed by
Miles O'Brien
Additional Producing
Cameron Hickey and Suzi Tobias
Cameron Hickey
Associate Producer
Will Toubman
Cameron Hickey
Original Footage
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013


(Coney Island photograph)
Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives
(Aerial shots of NJ beach nourishment)
Courtesy Mangrove Media, LLC/ Jen Schneider


(main image: The Cyclone)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013

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