The Cobble Bell

*This project was developed as part of Healthy Port Futures. For more detail on the process please see the HPF website.

Cobbel Bell under construction, 2020

The Cobble Bell is a recurring practice developed for Port Bay, NY to manage dredged sediment and nourish the barrier bar which serves as the community beach and protecting infrastructure from Lake Ontario storms. It is located in Wayne County, NY, in the drumlin field on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario. The shoreline in this region is defined by eroding drumlins which form a complex of dramatic bluffs and barrier bars along the coast, creating unique and rich ecological habitat and opportunities for recreation. It is one of the few areas in the Great Lakes that has not experienced substantial shoreline hardening, which is why it possesses such unique cultural and ecological qualities.

High water and rates of erosion in recent years have lead to increased pressure to harden the shoreline in communities facing property damage. Meanwhile, land managers including the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation are facing a loss of significant ecosystems and shoreline habitat.

As part of Healthy Port Futures, we worked with Decker Excavation, the Port Bay Improvement Association, the Wayne County Water and Soil Conservation District, and the NYS DEC to develop a modification to the existing dredging permit that would aid the reconstruction of the barrier bar through time. Our research showed that employing predominant waves and currents to move the sediment from west to east should result in significant beach-building over time. We proposed to do this nourishment project by placing the sediment in an artificial landform that protrudes into the nearshore environment. This form, with its distinctive bell-shape, worked with the logic of a bulldozer, and knowledge of the wave climate in this location to accelerate natural processes of bluff erosion and beach-building.

The landform was shaped like a bell protruding into the water, similar to a scaled-down version of the glacial drumlins that dominate the topography in this region. This makes more of the placed sediment available for erosion and transport to the beach faster by placing it further into the nearshore zone, and works with the machine logic of a bulldozer– the Bell results from merely driving the same path over and over with a slight incline on the blade.

The practice was implemented first in 2020 and repeated in 2022. While it is not a complete solution to the problems of erosion in Port Bay, it is proving to be a good example of how to efficiently work with natural process to preserve the ecological character, natural beauty, and protective performance of coastal landscapes with minimal cost. Monitoring and data collection are continuing for the next three years and will inform the future of the practice as it adapts to new demands and environmental conditions.

Different scenarios for the placement of dredged sediment along the Port Bay barrier bar using bulldozer technology.