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Date of Issue: June 10, 2009

Coquina renourishment on schedule

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County officials are concerned about the width of Coquina Beach, where sand has eroded to expose rocks and jetties. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
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A map of the proposed beach renourishment scheduled for Coquina Beach later this year or in early 2010.

Beach renourishment on Coquina Beach is on track to begin late this year or early next year, but county officials say permitting hurdles remain.

“Manatee County has never done an offshore renourishment to help Coquina Beach rebuild its shores,” county natural resources department director Charlie Hunsicker told county commissioners June 2 in Bradenton.

Hunsicker referred to the county-managed property in Bradenton Beach as “our most valuable recreational beach south of Tampa Bay.”

And he described the effort to secure renourishment permits as taking a “tortured course.”

As a result of discussions with state permitting agencies, the scope of the project has been scaled back and mitigation added.

When the county embarked on the planning for the project two years ago, about 400,000 cubic yard of white sand was to be removed from  Longboat Pass to be placed on Coquina Beach.

But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, concerned about stability, made the pass off-limits as a sand source for the project, according to Coastal Planning and Engineering consultant Rick Spadoni.

The DEP also disproved of the amount of sand proposed for renourishment.

So project designers looked to a source of white sand off the north end of Anna Maria Island and scaled back the project.

“We were again rejected,” Spadoni said.

The sand source apparently was all right with the DEP, but the scope of the project was not because the sand would cover near-shore rock habitat.

Spadoni said the size of the project was reduced to add about 30-40 feet to the width of the beach, but leave some near-shore rock habitat exposed. The project also was amended to include the creation of an artificial reef of limestone rocks to mitigate any near-shore rock covered by sand.

 “We’ve saved 1.8 acres of hard-bottom from being covered by the beach project,” Spadoni said.

He added that DEP officials had a tentative look at the scaled-back plan, and “they were happy with what we were presenting.… We believe this will be the project.”

Commissioner Joe McClash questioned whether the project still called for too much sand on Coquina Beach.

 “I’ve never seen it as wide as you’re planning on making it,” he said, adding that he remembers the jetties always being exposed. “I remember snorkeling around them.”

Hunsicker said the beach is so seriously eroded that it creates safety problems for the county’s marine rescue division — the lifeguards on the beach.

“This is the worst beach they’ve seen in 25 years,” he said, adding that the state actually petitioned the county to make renourishment a priority.

Commissioner Larry Bustle added that years ago “the beach used to go out a lot farther than those groins than most of us realize.”

“Now is the wrong time to re-engineer this project,” he continued.

In addition to securing a permit from the DEP, the county needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.

If the process moves forward without delays, the county will seek bids in late summer and a contractor may begin pumping sand 7 miles from off the Island’s north tip to Coquina as early as November. However, January or February 2010 may be more likely, Spadoni said.

The estimated cost of renourishment is $13.6 million, with the West Coast Inland Navigation District covering 15 percent of the cost, the Federal Emergency Management Agency paying 16 percent, the county contributing 27 percent and the state providing 42 percent.

The county’s contribution would come from tourist development funds.

FEMA is involved because the Coquina project will be coordinated with a smaller, federal renourishment project on the northern end of Anna Maria.

After this project, Hunsicker said Coquina Beach will be included in Islandwide renourishment projects— the next Islandwide project could begin in 2012.