- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s waterways chipped away substantial chunks of the state’s sprawling coastline as Hurricane Isabel pounded the shores, preliminary reviews show.

The damage is uneven and isn’t what experts anticipated, said Leonard Larese-Casanova, director of the Erosion Control Program run by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Ocean City’s Atlantic-front dunes fared well, but counties on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay took the worst of Isabel’s pummeling, Mr. Casanova said.

“Nobody likes to see this type of damage,” said Mr. Casanova, whose program helps homeowners recover after their property is damaged by erosion. “But we had substantial damage and sad stories of people out there caught with shoreline damage.”

DNR doesn’t yet know how many feet of shoreline were lost to Isabel, Mr. Casanova said. County governments are keeping track of the numbers and will report them later to the state.

But the reports that are trickling in show that the storm’s heavy waves and a storm surge of up to 8 feet crushed and collapsed bulkheads, seawalls and stonework, Mr. Casanova said. Once the barriers were down, large pieces of shoreline liquefied.

In Baltimore County, for example, about $3 million worth of land was damaged by erosion. About 11,500 feet of shoreline was damaged, Mr. Casanova said.

“We’ve seen far more erosion problems from this storm than in other hurricanes, because of the tremendous wind and wave action,” said Theresa Pierno, vice president of environmental protection and restoration for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

A Bay cruise by the foundation showed areas bordered by the largest rivers suffered the worst damage, said Miss Pierno, whose own neighborhood is near the South River.

Two weeks after the storm, the river still struggles to flush out the extra soil washed from its banks, she said.

“You can see where the water and river is all muddy, where sediments went into the river and continue to wash in every time it rains,” Miss Pierno said.

Too much erosion harms the bay’s delicate ecosystem by dumping in soil that clouds the water, which can smother grasses and suffocate shellfish, she said.

“It continues to be a problem, because every time you have storms, you have all this soil exposed, and trees that once protected the edge are down. You continue to have nutrient runoff from these eroded areas,” Miss Pierno said.

Early reports show Ocean City’s seven miles of beach and dunes did exactly what they are supposed to do: release sand and alleviate the force of the waves as they roll over the shoreline, Mr. Casanova said. But they didn’t lose too much sand, it appears.

What state scientists and engineers haven’t yet seen is how much damage the resort’s underwater beach may have suffered. The hidden beach is crucial to protecting the shores above water, said DNR engineer Jordan Loran.

DNR tracks a slope of the beach that extends to 25 feet below sea level. That area absorbs energy from waves as they break, so the more underwater beach that is preserved, the better, said Mr. Loran, who also is project manager for the Ocean City beach replenishment project.

“The visual beach did great, and it remains to be seen how we did below,” he said.

City officials worried about Isabel’s final high tide, but it turned out to be more dangerous for the Chesapeake Bay coast than for Ocean City, because of the storm’s northeast path, Mr. Loran said.

Beaches at Assateague Island State Park, where enormous waves rolled completely over the dunes, didn’t hold up as well, he said. Even before officially surveying the beach, engineers can see that the dunes are lower.

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