Article from the Eastern Shore News......
ASSATEAGUE -- Since the beach parking lot was laid to waste by the remnants of Hurricane Ida last November, the National Park Service has been working to restore parking spaces for beachgoers. Despite several setbacks during strong winter storms, the crews have been able to bring back all 961 parking spaces in time for Memorial Day weekend -- the unofficial start of summer beach season.Still, officials say the $600,000 project is not a longterm solution, and officials are wary of expected higher-than-normal tides this week.
"Our land base is shrinking because of sea level rise and the accompanying strong storms," said Refuge Manager Lou Hinds. "These are all naturally occurring reasons and there's nothing the American public or government agencies can do."<>
Hinds said that 115 yards of beach have been lost since 1962. Vestiges of former parking lots attest to this: cables and a wellhead have been unearthed by the surf, and farther back from the ocean, concrete fragments intermingle with the sand.
While the continued erosion will leave no land for parking in the future, Hinds has even more imminent concerns. This week's spring tide means tides will be at their highest.
"If we get a strong easterly wind ... there is a fear that the parking lots would get washed out again," leaving no parking for Memorial Day weekend visitors, said Hinds.
While the Park Service is moving sand to buffer the new lots, long-term plans are in the works.
A long-term study being conducted by Accomack County, the town of Chincoteague, the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service has identified four equally preferred alternatives including retaining all beach parking or moving some or all parking to Chincoteague and using a shuttle for beachgoers.<>
Regardless of which alternative plan is chosen, $900,000 will be spent to improve bike trail safety and install a transportation system to and from the beach, Hinds said.
The public will be invited to give its input before decision-making begins in the late summer or early fall.
Hinds said the decision will consider wildlife first, "because that's what the refuge is here for." Sea level rise and climate change will also be "weighed very heavily," he said.
"There is no plan in place at this time, should the parking lots get washed away, to shuttle people out to the beach," Hinds said.
"My fear is that the economy of the town of Chincoteague is tied ... to the recreational beach and people's ability to reach the beach."
How long the new parking lots will last is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
"It's on a wing and a prayer," said Hinds.