BRADENTON BEACH -- Federal, state and county officials Tuesday attended a dedication ceremony honoring the completion of a nearly $16 million beach renourishment, while beachgoers enjoyed the results -- broad stretches of soft, white sand.
"Fantastic. Loved it," was the reaction of Bob Hodgson, 64, an employee of the government of Ontario, Canada, who vacations three weeks here each year from his Toronto home.
"It was a great time," Hodgson said as he prepared to leave Manatee Public Beach. "It's wonderful."
A group of residents who spent the day at the beach were also mostly complimentary.
"The end result is great, but it can affect our wildlife so that makes me a little nervous," said Erin Tribble, 19, Bradenton, who was playing a board game with her friends, Christin Viverito, 19; Patricia Viverito, 18; and Nicholas Chioffe, 20, all of Bradenton.
They said they had been sunning and swimming in the morning, but had taken a break for snacks, and would go back to the beach for the afternoon.
Ben Stewart, 42, of Palma Sola, owner of Holy Cow Ice Cream & Other Cool Stuff, 3234 E. Bay Drive, said he has noticed a positive economic effect following beach renourishment.
"I've seen them do it many times over the years, and I'm always happy to see it," said Stewart, who recalled people walked on wooden piers over exposed rock when he was a child because the soft sand had eroded away.
"The impact of it for our economy and the locals here -- people
complain about heightened tourism, but for our business owners, it's all good," he said.
Those attending the event at the Tortuga Inn Beach Resort, 1325 Gulf Drive N., included Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota; county commissioners; officials representing the cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach; officials representing firms that designed and carried out construction, and county, state and federal officials who allocated money for it and directed it.
Buchanan said every dollar spent on beach renewal triggers a 40-fold return.
"It's incredible," he added, looking out over a stretch of beach lush with sea oats. "Anna Maria Island is one of the top islands in the country and the world, and this will take it steps beyond that."
Beach renourishment provides storm protection for roads and other infrastructure, recreational opportunities and environmental protection, said Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County director of parks and natural resources.
"The beaches of Manatee County are what drive our tourism, and make this simply the best place on Earth to live," said Hunsicker.
Over the winter, two separate projects took place, the first beginning at 78th Street in Holmes Beach and continuing to Fifth Street South at Bradenton Beach; the second beginning at Fifth Street South and ending at Longboat Pass. It cost about $16 million total, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers providing about 75 percent, and the state and county picking up 12.5 percent each, said Thomas Pierro, senior engineer for CB&I, a coastal planning and engineering firm based in Boca Raton.
The county was able to save money because it got the maximum share from its state partner by providing full public access and excellent public parking, said Vincent George, project manager for the Florida Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems.
"It's a real cost issue for the county," said George. "If you can get the maximum, it reduces their bill."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.