|INTERVIEW with Deborah Beck, Coastal Engineer, Office of Coastal Management
What do you do to protect and improve Ohio’s coastal region?
I provide assistance to property owners in designing and implementing projects along Ohio’s Lake Erie shore. These projects include providing protection from lake-based erosion, enhancing beaches and improving navigation for boating. These projects may require owners to obtain shore structure permits that I review.
What do you consider when assessing a proposed project site?
I first examine the site’s characteristics. I look at the composition of the bluff or bank to determine its resistance to erosion. The materials that makeup the bluffs and banks of Lake Erie range from highly resistant limestone and shale, to less resistant glacial till, to even less resistant sand and silt deposits. It is also important to determine the amount of sand that is present in the near shore area. Finally, the maximum wave height and predominant wave direction for the site are determined.
What types of structures are commonly built along the shore?
The type of structure chosen for each site depends on the intended function of the structure and the site characteristics. Structures built to control erosion of the shore from wave action consist of hard, soft, and combination structures.
Hard structures are made of rock and/or concrete and are either placed on a slope or vertically. In the photo I am measuring the dimensions of an armor stone placed as part of a revetment. I will use these dimensions to determine the weight of the armor stone and compare it to the size authorized as part of the shore structure permit.
The required minimum weight of an armor stone to prevent its relocation by wave and ice forces is determined by water depth, wave climate and the slope at which the armor stone is placed.
I also measure and record the beach width from the toe of a revetment to the water. This will help to evaluate the shoreline response to the construction of the shore erosion control measures at the site.
Soft structures are such things as beaches, sand dunes and vegetation. Combination structures consist of hard structures that hold in a soft structure such as a beach. Beach enhancement projects can include the placement of sand on a beach or the placement of a combination structure with beach sand.
Hard structures intended to aid in navigation or to provide access for boating include docks and piers made of concrete and breakwaters made of rock.
What effects do structures have on Lake Erie’s natural resources?
Structures built in or along Ohio’s shore can have small- and large-scale effects on Lake Erie’s coastal resources. For example, projects such as seawalls built at the back of a beach will slow erosion of the bluff or bank. While this can prevent damage to roads and buildings located upland, the structures also prevent new material, such as sand that could form a beach, from entering the littoral system. Structures that extend into Lake Erie perpendicular to the shore can trap sand, enhancing a beach on one side, but may deplete the size of the beach on the other, down drift side, by taking away the source of sand. Depending on the design of a structure, aquatic habitat can be created or destroyed. Structures that are poorly designed and constructed may fall apart under wave action and ice forces. The materials then litter the shore and near shore areas creating hazards for people, wildlife and boats.
What is most challenging about your job?
Balancing use and preservation of the Lake Erie shore is the most challenging aspect of my job. I have to ensure that the project’s design meets the needs of the property owner while minimizing impacts to Lake Erie and its natural resources.