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Several Outer Banks beaches to be widened in 2017

KITTY HAWK, N.C. (AP) — Plans to widen several Outer Banks beaches next year will come with extra precautions to protect sea turtles because the projects are being done in the summer months when dredging costs are cheaper, officials say.

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reports ( ) that Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Buxton are planning to beef up their beaches during the spring and summer of 2017.

The newspaper says beach replenishment is cheaper if it's done during those months instead of the winter. But federal laws require numerous precautions and careful monitoring to avoid harming protected sea turtles.

If multiple turtles are injured or killed during the dredging process, it could halt the projects for months.

Still, officials say the overall price of the projects should be lower than if they were done in the winter when contractors charge higher rates. The newspaper says the project for Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills will cost about $42 million, while the Buxton project will cost about $25 million.

Before work can begin in an area, the dredging area must be trawled for five days. Citing a bid estimate, the newspaper reports that if a sea turtle is caught during the five-day period, then a trawler must work ahead of the dredge for the entire project. The trawlers are meant to catch the turtles and move them to a different area so that they aren't hurt or killed by the dredges.

Matthew Godfrey, a biologist and sea turtle program coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, said that doing the work in the summer disturbs more turtles than in the winter. Turtles are active and nesting in the warm-weather months.

"Ideally, we would like to see this done in the winter," he said.

He said that dredging contractors offer lower bids for summer work because they aren't as busy then.

The National Marine Fisheries Service requires that monitors watch for sea turtles caught in dredging equipment. Too many harmed sea turtles can halt work on projects in a given area.

Dennis Klemm, southeast regional sea turtle recovery coordinator for the service, said contractors typically stay under those limits partly because the trawlers move turtles out of the way.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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