ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- A beach renourishment project is likely to be fast-tracked here with emergency funds approved by Congress for relief and recovery of areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Debby, Manatee County officials say.
"It was fairly certain" such a project would come to Anna Maria Island this summer, says Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department.
"The appropriations were also written to provide relief for damage suffered under Tropical Storm Debby," Hunsicker said Wednesday from Washington, D.C., where he has been meeting with federal officials.
In June, Tropical Storm Debby raked Florida's West Coast, resulting in "measurable losses" to local beaches, Hunsicker said. How much money may be on its way in dollars was unclear Wednesday, Hunsicker said, but the total "runs into the millions of dollars of federal aid."
The renourishment project, assuming all goes as planned, would be aimed at repairing about five miles of beach along a central section of Anna Maria Island, from Holmes Beach to Bradenton Beach.
The project was originally slated to take place in 2015.
"It'll mean the beach is in place in 2013, so it's an unplanned benefit to react to a very unplanned hurricane season," Hunsicker said.
The number of cubic yards of sand to be pumped from offshore areas back onto the beach has not been determined.
"Whether or not the entire beach width is restored will depend on further congressional decisions related to the continuing resolution to fund the government through the balance of this year," said Hunsicker.
"...We are hopeful this year's continuing resolution, which must be adopted by Congress and signed by the president by March 27 -- or there'll be a shutdown -- will continue the funding we need for a complete rebuild of our beach," he said.
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, a longtime beach resident, was thrilled.
"That's just wonderful news, we need it," said Chappie. "We suffered quite a bit of damage. We are truly blessed, and we look for the construction starting sometime this summer."
Beach renourishment fortifies the beach and its dunes, which protect the infrastructure of the island -- roads and properties, while also providing lush recreational areas and helping the economy by attracting tourists.
"A healthy beach system protects our community and environment," he said.
Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti, when told of the situation, said, "That's sounds like great news, but I can't comment because I don't know the details."
In October, Hurricane Sandy hit parts of the Caribbean, Florida, the mid-Atlantic and the northeastern U.S., causing at least 147 direct deaths in the Atlantic basin, according to a report issued last month by the National Weather Service. Preliminary U.S. damage estimates neared $50 billion, it said.
"Regrettably, from the very real pain and hardship of a natural disaster, the residents of several Florida beach front communities, including Anna Maria Island, will be given the gift of early protection for future storms," Hunsicker said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.