Fort Anderson historic site rebuilding lost waterfront through environmentally friendly technology

Updated: Mar. 5, 2019 at 2:46 PM EST
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Structures called reef makers are successfully combating climate change at the Brunswick Town Fort Anderson State Historic Site.

Due to environmental changes, the waterline along the Cape Fear at Fort Anderson was significantly eroding as tides got higher and higher with each passing year.

“Between 2008 and 2013, we lost anywhere between 75-125 feet of waterfront and that’s cultural and natural resources that have been compromised and it’s still going on. In some places it’s increased,” said Jim McKee, Fort Anderson site manager.

The site received a grant to work on fixing the problem immediately following Hurricane Matthew. In total, the project will cost about $10 million, and is being funded through multiple grants.

“The best solution we’ve had so far is what we call a wave attenuator, specifically what we call a reef maker. They are substantial structures but they allow the water and sediment to filter in and naturally rebuild the waterfront where we’ve got in in place,” McKee said.

About 450 feet of the wall is in place, but there is around a mile of waterfront that needs to be covered. McKee says it’s working and is environmentally friendly.

The reef maker is created using a fiberglass piling that is driven down into the bottom of the river. Then concrete discs are stacked on top of it, with granite planted into them.

"So they stack up and it allows the sediments and water to filter through. Some sediment is going to come in and some will actually go out but a lot of it is going to stay behind and it’s actually going to build up the waterfront,” McKee said.

As the wall continues to grow, the benefits are clearly evident. In a matter of months, the waterline has grown substantially, as shown in progress photos taken by the site and reef makers.

“The benefits are almost boundless. It’s stopped some of the erosion. For the most part where they’ve been placed the erosion has stopped and we’re seeing an increase in the shoreline. It has promoted crabs. Blue crabs are loving that area…. Butted to. What was a great fishing area is a dynamite fishing are a now. Lots of bate fish have established themselves behind it which has brought in a lot of shorebirds. It’s also promoted oyster growth so the benefits are there,” McKee said.

The reef makers passed the real test, when Florence tore through the area.

“These were in place before Florence and they’ve held up very well. Actually we did note there has been quite a bit of sand accretion behind them. That was the big test. We wanted to see what it would do with a hurricane. The first ones were put in right after Hurricane Matthew and as a direct result of Hurricane Matthew and we were very pleased with what we saw immediately, almost immediately. We’ve been really pleased with what we’ve seen and observed since Hurricane Florence,” he said.

The reef makers are working well to build up waterlines along the Cape Fear, but McKee says it is very possible they can be used elsewhere, like on beaches to help rebuild shoreline.

“Feasibly it could. Right now where we’re at is probably the highest energy area that these have been placed," McKee said. "The only other place in North Carolina they’ve been used is up at Bonner Bridge on the Pamlico and then a couple places along the gulf coast. From what we’re seeing there’s a lot of uses for it, there’s a lot of ways it can be used, as far as on the beach, that’s something that’s being explored.”

The blocks can also be re-used once their purpose is accomplished.

“The great thing about them is if they work and they do their job, then we don’t ever need them again and they can be removed and re-used somewhere else,” he said.

McKee also said the many different uses for the reef makers. Though it has not been done at Fort Anderson, it is possible to put boardwalks or fishing platforms on top of them, or use them to dock boats.

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