By Roberto Roldan
Tuesday the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners approved a cooperative agreement between the county and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the re-nourishment of Sunset Beach. The $2.4 million in federal funds will replace sand lost when Tropical Storm Debby impacted the beach last year.
The agreement is part of a larger project to fully re-nourish and repair all of Treasure Island beach which includes the Sunshine Beach area. Andrew Squires, the Coastal manager for Pinellas County, said that project is planned to begin later this year.
“Treasure Island was at the end of its erosional cycle this time last year when Tropical Storm Debby struck. So, it was needing nourishment anyway. The storm made it that much worse. The emergency funds will only replace what was lost from the storm, but the rest of the project is doing a full nourishment to replace sand lost on Sunshine Beach, which is on the north end of Treasure Island, and to fully nourish Sunset Beach. We’re looking at using that $2.4 million to help fund a project that is going to cost a total of $12 million.”
The funding for the rest of the project has already been allocated with the approval of $5.6 million in federal funds as well as $2 million from the state of Florida. The county will have to match the state’s $2 million contribution as well. Last year, USF researches released a study that showed severe shoreline erosion on many of Pinellas County’s other beaches including Sand Key, Pass-A-Grille and Upham Beach. Squires said the county hopes to find funding to nourish these beaches after the Treasure Island project is complete.
“The Army Corps doesn’t have official approval to move forward with doing the Long Key Project, which is where Upham and Pass-A-Grille are located. They do plan to put in, when they advertise for the Treasure Island Project, a contractual option, a bid solicitation and ultimately a contract to do Long Key as well, after Treasure Island’s is done.”
In May, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the state budget that includes a total of $37 million for dune and beach restoration around Florida. After the $12 million nourishment project in Treasure Island is complete, the beach will need re-nourishment again in 3 to 4 years. Squire said that Pinellas County has no alternatives to costly beach re-nourishments.
“Basically, the plan for Pinellas County, to keep our beaches wide and viable, is beach re-nourishment. That is our plan. There is nothing different in the works right now. That is the preferred method and it does appear to be the most cost-effective way if you look at the dollars the beaches bring in to the economy. It still pays for itself anywhere from five to eight times over, depending on whose numbers you’re looking at.”
In the coming years, the county’s Coastal Management department will also have to address rising sea levels brought about by climate change. Squire said while there is no definite plan of action at the moment, the department hopes to address the handling of sea level rise into their comprehensive plans for the county.