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18 FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21 - MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2014 Cape Gazette Experts lack data to link injuries to projects By Maddy Lauria maddy@capegazette.com Replenishment projects at Delaware's beaches have protected coastal proper- ties, but some residents say these projects also make the beaches more dangerous. A surf-related injury study is underway, but experts say it won't prove whether re- plenishment is responsible for increased surf-related injuries. During a public workshop in Rehoboth Beach Nov. 1, Dewey Beach resident and coastal property owner Clinton Bunting said future projects should support rec- reational beach use and not focus only on protecting property. "Beach replenishment and nourishment ... we have to have it. We have to have great bays and great beaches," the former lifeguard said. "In the last years with the beach nourishment and replenishment, injuries have increased dramatically." Bunting's concerns were raised during a review of regulations that are unre- lated to beach replenishment projects, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control officials said. His concerns will be shared with DNREC's federal partner in replenishment projects - the Army Corps of Engineers, they said. Stephen Rochette, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District, said the corps has not seen a cor- relation between completed projects and an increase in injuries, but he said there are many variables that make that connec- tion difficult to determine. "Beaches are dynamic and changing whether we conduct a beachfill or not," he said. Beebe Healthcare Department of Emer- gency Medicine Dr. Paul Cowan, who began compiling surf injury data in 2009 after he noticed clusters of beach-related injuries, said there is no comparison data available to measure current injuries against the number and extent of injuries that occurred before major replenishment projects. No data was available on surf inju- ries until he initiated the Delaware Surf Zone Injury study in 2009 with Wendy Carey, a coastal hazards specialist with the University of Delaware, and DNREC representatives. The only documentation previously collected was the type of in- jury, not the manner in which it occurred. A dislocated shoulder was documented as a dislocated shoulder, he said; the cause could be a rough rugby bout or a rough day in the surf. "For us to say beach renourishment it- self is a causative factor, we'd have to have pre-nourishment data," he said. A 50-year beach replenishment plan at Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach, South Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Lewes Beach and the Indian River Inlet began nearly a decade ago. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent on projects at those sites, with millions of cubic yards of sand dredged offshore and pumped onto the beach to replenish those beaches. Funding from the federal Di- saster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, following Hurricane Sandy, provided an additional $19 million for the most recent projects along the Atlantic coast beaches. FILE PHOTO SOME LOCALS ARGUE that beach replenishment efforts have increased injuries and eliminated recreational opportunities, but officials with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state's Depart- ment of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, say the projects are not the cause of inju- ries and that their main goal is storm damage reduction. Tony Pratt, administrator of DNREC's Shoreline and Waterway Management Section, said an offshore borrow site used in 2005 made a hazardous beach face be- cause of gravelly material dumped onto local beaches. He said future projects will not use that borrow site. "We're looking for sand which is going to [produce] that more shallow beach slope," he said. He added that the Army Corps of Engineers is cognizant of the concerns raised by Bunting and the risks of using gravelly material on Delaware's beaches. Pratt also re- ferred to Cowan's study of surf zone injuries as a pos- sible source of data linking the replenishment projects to in- creased injuries. Pratt added that the University of Delaware also was hired to study the "What I'd love to coast on a number be able to do is of fronts, includ- figure out what ing the slope ofcombination of the beach and environmental whether replen- variables are ishment projectsoccurring on the have contributeddays with more to a steeper beach, injuries, so we can Cowan said the predict and prevent more injuries." study is not ex- pected to prove - Dr. Paul Cowan, or disprove if any Beebe Healthcare increase in inju- Department ries is linked to beach replenish- of Emergency ment. The study Medicine will identify envi- roumental conditions that are hazardous for beach-goers, so people can avoid surf- related injuries in the future. "This study really in no way address- es the questions of the pros and cons of beach renourishment," Cowan said. "What I'd love to be able to do is figure out what combination of environmental variables are occurring on the days with more injuries, so we can predict and pre- vent more injuries." The Delaware Surf Zone Injury study has found injuries occur in clusters; the study compares days with no injuries with days with six to 20 injuries to identify fac- tors that may cause the differences. About 20 environmental variables such as wave height, wave direction, water tempera- ture and air temperature are measured , and documented along with the types of injuries, place of injury and demograph- ics of the injured people. Cowan said the study also recently began tracking how many people are in the water on a given day to see if that plays a role on days with increased injuries. So far, the study has concluded that most injuries occur as people, usually over the age of 30, are leaving the surf and their backs are turned toward the waves, he said. Since 2009, the study has documented about 400 days of data, Cowan said, noting research- ers are limited to summer months when people are using the beach. With a few sum- mer seasons now documented, re- searchers can start to derive statistically valid "We're looking for comments, he said. sand which is going "The longer we to [produce] that can continue to more shallow beach collect data, the slope." more statistically valid it will be," he -Tony Pratt, said. "The most administrator d important thing DNREC's Shoreline for us at the end and Waterway of the day is that Management this is about pub- lic awareness and Section injury prevention." Cowan said he hopes to share some findings based on the data within the next year or two, but he reiterated that the study was not designed to look at whether injuries have increased as a result of beach replenishment. Pratt said science is needed to reach the conclusion that replenishment projects are having any effects on surf-related injuries. He said DNREC and the corps are look- ing for fine sand that is more compatible with recreational use. The corps is responsible for renourish- ment projects along the oceanfront, but the state takes the lead on these projects along the Delaware Bay. Oceanfront proj- ects, while designed and executed by the corps, are 65 percent federally funded, with the state paying the remaining 35 percent. Borrow sites and sand placement DELAWARE SURF ZONE INJURY STUDY FINDINGS Total injuries in 2014:299 Cervical fractures/spinal cord in'ju- ries: 21 Total injuries in 2013:118 Total injuries in 2012:262 Total injuries in 2011:423 Total injuries in 2010:429 Total injuries 2009 to 2014:1,978 Upper extremity injuries: 35 percent Lower extremity injuries: 22 percent Cervical fractures/spinal cord inju- ries: 5 percent Fatalities: 4 Average age of injured person: 35 (older than national average of trauma patients) Most common scenario for injuries: As people are walking out of the surf, with their back toward the waves Source: Dr, Paul Cowan, Beebe HeaRhcare projects are monitored through subaque- ous lands permits through DNREC, said DNREC Environmental Program Man- ager Michael Powell. "We worked collaboratively with the corps to the extent they needed our help," Powell said. He said the Beach Preservation Act of 1972 was written at a time when current beach replenishment strategies didn't exist. Large-scale dredge projects and massive sand dumps were not standard practice when the act was passed, he said. Rochette agreed that the corps does its best to find sand that is similar to the na- tive material found at replenishment sites. Still, he said, reducing storm damage is really the corps' primary concern. "We are required to select the plan to maximize the storm damage reduction benefits relative to the total cost of con- structing a project," he said. He added that projects take into account environmental impacts and technical feasibility. DNREC is the nonfederal sponsor of the oceanfront projects and in turn works closely with municipalities in project ar- eas, he said. Rochette added that years of study, design and build stages, including public input precede dredging projects. The corps tries to match the grain size of the fill to the native material as closely as possible and design projects based on the existing slopes in the area. "We also know that coastal processes rework the profile into a more natural equilibrium state after a period of time, usually several months after construc- tion," he said. "It's important to remember that we are there in full partnership with the state of Delaware."