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Beach renourishment startup delayed to Dec. 17

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, explains the beach renourishment work schedule at a Dec. 10 Holmes Beach city commission meeting. Islander Photo: Mark Young

A Dec. 11 start date for an Anna Maria Island beach renourishment project stretching south from Holmes Beach to Longboat Key Pass was pushed back to Dec. 17, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.

After making presentations in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach earlier this month on the project, Hunsicker told Holmes Beach commissioners at a Dec. 10 city commission meeting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractor was delayed at another project.

The company has been renourishing the beach on Gasparilla Island, Hunsicker said, and dredging there resulted in more crushed shell than anticipated, which slowed the pumping process.

He said underwater pipes have already been laid in the dredging area about 2 miles off the north end of Anna Maria Island in preparation for the upcoming project and that some equipment is already in place.

“I asked them if they could still finish by Feb. 1 and they said it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Hunsicker. “It won’t be a problem with the quality of sand we have. They will be able to do about 200-300 yards of beach a day.”

Hunsicker said once the project begins, about 55,000 cubic feet of sand a day will be dredged from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico and pumped onshore. Bulldozers will redistribute the sand to rebuild a beach that was due for renourishment even before Tropical Storm Debby scoured sand from the southern end of the island and deposited it toward the north end in June 2012.

Hunsicker said once the project starts it will continue 24 hours a day.

“They can’t stop once they start pushing the sand through 7 miles of pipes,” he said. “It has to keep moving all the time.”

Other than the five-day delay, Hunsicker said the timeline for the project remains the same.

From there, the project goes from a 75 percent federally funded renourishment to a state- and county-funded renourishment at Coquina Beach. That project is expected to take an additional four weeks, putting the final completion date in late March or early April 2014 — in time for the May 1 start of sea turtle nesting season.

Neither project will affect the timeline for the replacement of the three erosion-control groins that have been in disrepair at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach since 1984.

The groin project is expected to cost $2.8 million. While it doesn’t have a start date, it is expected to begin sometime in early 2014, according to Hunsicker, who said it would take nine months to demolish and rebuild the groins.

Hunsicker said the state considered fully removing the groins, but the county was able to convince state officials that Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach would be in danger of being washed out in a storm without the groins.

Technology now allows the structures to be rebuilt as adjustable groins and officials can control the underwater flow of sand on the new groins, which also are designed to be used as fishing piers.

Commissioner Jean Peelen asked why the project was scheduled at the beginning of tourist season and answered her own question by saying, “Sea turtles.”

Hunsicker confirmed that was the reason.

“In 2002, we didn’t have that restriction, but our nest density is getting higher and reaching the point where it’s important not to have construction on the beach during nesting season.”

Hunsicker explained that a good portion of the beaches will be usable outside of the renourishment area and the contractor has agreed to the county’s request to provide more than 200 walkovers along the pipeline on the beach from Holmes Beach to Bradenton Beach.

The majority of the $16 million beach renourishment is being paid for through a federal emergency spending bill initially started after Tropical Storm Debby and solidified after Super Storm Sandy hit the northeast United States in October 2012.

Hunsicker said 12.5 percent of the project is being funded by Manatee County tourist development tax dollars and the remaining 12.5 percent is being paid by state grants. He said the 75 percent federal money was the key to getting the project started.

“Long ago we entered into this partnership with the federal government,” said Hunsicker. “Other cities opted out of it, like Longboat Key, and they are out of it. They don’t get federal funding and it would be nearly impossible for those cities to get back in now. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is so far behind on projects already authorized, if you set out today to get into the federal partnership with beaches, it would be decades before you saw any action by Congress.”

Hunsicker said the island has about 12 million yards of sand sitting in its offshore “reserve account” for renourishment projects, and that the dredging site is the same as it was for the 2005 renourishment.

“It will have no effect on the north end of the island,” he said. “We already know that to be true from the last time.”

Anna Maria was excluded from the upcoming renourishment project because it was the only island city to benefit from Tropical Storm Debby. The storm took away from other island cities and deposited sand at the north end of the island.

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