HOLMES BEACH -- The roar of heavy machinery competed with the splash of surf Friday as Anna Maria Island's long-awaited beach renourishment project shifted into high gear.
At Holmes Beach, the shore was littered with huge pipes, bulldozers, porta-potties, offices and crew as an enormous barge unloaded equipment for the project near the intersection at Gulf Drive and 65th Street.
Offshore, a dredge barge named "The California," which will pump sand from a borrow area north of the island, waited stately as workers readied pipes to carry the sand.
" 'The California' is a huge vacuum cleaner sitting on top of a barge," explained Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County's director of parks and natural resources.
The actual pumping of sand is expected to start Saturday, said Hunsicker.
About seven miles of beach will be fortified during two related renourishment projects extending from 78th Street at Holmes Beach south to Longboat Key Pass.
Last year, the barrier island's beaches overlooking the Gulf of Mexico took a beating from severe storms.
The $13 million Central Anna Maria Island renourishment project and a $3 million project farther south at Coquina Beach are designed to repair erosion damage the storms inflicted.
The projects are financed by federal, state and county dollars; however, "bed taxes" charged to visitors pay Manatee County's share of the cost, officials have said.
Tourists enjoyed the warm weather and sunshine on Fri
day, even as heavy equipment was grinding away nearby. It didn't seem to bother anybody in the least.
Near the project site is Harrington House Beachfront Bed & Breakfast Inn, at 5626 Gulf Drive.
Asked if guests had expressed concern about the project, manager Mark Davis said they are inquisitive and interested, but not worried.
Beachgoers should use caution in areas adjacent to the active construction site and be careful to comply with fenced "No Entry" zones, said Laurel Reichold, a spokeswoman for the contracting agent, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The timing of the work was carefully chosen to avoid turtle nesting season, when sea turtles lay eggs in the warm sand, Hunsicker said.
With favorable weather, both renourishment projects are expected to be completed by April, officials have said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.