Beach renourishment: It’s more than just sand

twhitt@bradenton.comMarch 31, 2011 

MANATEE -- Just as the barge was pulling into place to begin dredging for the $6 million beach renourishment project at Coquina Beach, county commissioners learned they would get time with Gov. Rick Scott today to try to convince him of the economic benefits such projects offer Florida.

If Scott has his way, however, the beach project will be the last one in Manatee County using state funds, at least during his term. Scott’s proposed budget does not include any state money for renourishment projects, and he has said he does not believe public money should be used to shore up any of Florida’s 825 miles of beaches.

Commission Chair Carol Whitmore said Scott doesn’t seem to recognize the statewide economic benefits of shoring up the coast. He needs to see the numbers -- whether it is jobs or return on investment -- tied to every public expense, Whitmore said. So county representatives plan to show Scott what the state gets for its investment in wide, sandy beaches.

Their first piece of evidence is simply a photo taken last week of Coquina beach, packed with tourists. They are also arriving armed with a 2003 study showing that for every dollar spent on beach renourishment, the state gets $8 in return. They will also point to the most recent census that shows beach properties, once homes for local residents, have turned into vacation rentals bringing in out-of-state revenues.

The commission is not alone in its message to the governor. Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, sent Scott a letter saying that “if you’re serious about making your campaign slogan a reality, getting Floridians back to work and investing in our tourism-based economy, funding renourishment is a no-brainer.”

The current $5.8 million project on Anna Maria Island is being funded with Federal Emergency Management Agency money, local tourism development revenues and state funds, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county’s Natural Resources Department. The first phase of the renourishment project is set to begin Saturday and expected to take about a month, depending on the weather.

Portions of Coquina Beach will be closed for a day at a time as 200,000 cubic yards of sand are added to the shore.

A barge will dredge sand from the northern end of the island and then pump that sand five miles through a submerged pipe to Coquina Beach, where a bulldozer and front-end loader will spread the sand, according to the project manager, Rick Spadoni of Coastal Planning and Engineering.

The entire project entails dredging about 206,000 cubic yards of sand for Coquina Beach. Another 25,000 cubic yards of sand will be dispersed on Anna Maria Island. FEMA is paying most of the costs of the Anna Maria Island segment because the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 caused severe erosion.

“Four hurricanes came through here and continued to chew at the beach,” Hunsicker said.

The work is starting now because it took nearly three years to get the required permits. Hunsicker said that timeline is not unusual given all of the environmental factors and reviews necessary whenever a dredging project is permitted. The project is also a scaled-back renourishment giving a five-year level of protection, because the federal government factored in plans for the 2014 maintenance dredging in the island’s long-term beach renourishment plan.

Once that phase is complete, the federal permits require the county to build a 4- to 6-acre artificial reef off of Bradenton Beach, with huge rocks placed just 3 to 6 inches apart. That project will cost $6.4 million, evenly split between state and local funds. Finally, the county will install a 300-foot-long sand-filled tube across the north jetty, which has begun to fail. The jetty, which is more than 50 years old, is set to be replaced, but the county wants to use the tube to test different designs to build an effective jetty. The tube, which will cost about $135,000 to install, will help slow the migration of sand through the failing jetty.

Hunsicker said the wider beaches will help protect the island’s evacuation routes, water and sewer lines and public, private and commercial property in severe storms. He said erosion at the beach is some of the worst in memory. Lifeguards can no longer traverse the beach with their rescue equipment without having to drive into or behind the sand dunes.

The next publicly funded project is scheduled for 2014 to 2015 for all of the county beaches. That renourishment is part of a 30-year ongoing project with maintenance scheduled every 10 years. Money for the project comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Florida and local Tourist Development Council. If the state does not fund the project, federal funds will likely dry up as well and the county’s beaches will continue to erode and move.

Hunsicker said without renourishment funding, Manatee County residents will face tough decision about the future of the county as the island returns to the concrete and rock-strewn shoreline it had in 1990, when the Army Corps of Engineers used photos of Manatee County beaches as examples of some of Florida’s most eroded shoreline.

“The same forces from the Gulf of Mexico that brought rocks in the early 1990s are still there every day working to return our shoreline to that condition,” he said. “So if we must choose, amongst many priorities, to discontinue our sandy beach renourishment program, one outcome will be certain: the loss of nearly all our sandy beach on Anna Maria Island.”

That, he said, will mean the loss of significant tourism revenues and even more tough choices about services across the board.

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