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Date of Issue: September 09, 2009

Pipeline sand headed for Coquina, not Anna Maria

Property owners in Anna Maria living in front of eroded beaches might be a bit discouraged to learn that none of the sand dredged by the Port Dolphin natural gas pipeline project will nourish their beach.

Instead, said Manatee County Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker, any sand dredged by the Port Dolphin pipeline project is earmarked first for renourishment of Coquina Beach, not other Island beaches.

On Sept. 3, county commissioners agreed to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposal to allow Port Dolphin LLC to install a natural gas pipeline to Port Manatee from a pumping station 30 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico to Port Manatee in exchange for the beach quality sand removed during installation of the pipeline.

Any sand removed by the Port Dolphin project — expected to start in 2011 — will be used on the Coquina Beach shore, Hunsicker said.

A Manatee County press release on Sept. 2 said the sand would be used to renourish “all Island beaches,” raising some hopes for beleaguered Anna Maria residents, but did not specifically mention which beaches would benefit.

Hunsicker said that at one point during negotiations with Port Dolphin LLC, Manatee County considered using the sand for the Islandwide renourishment project, but the county since learned there’s not enough sand in the pipeline location for the Islandwide effort.

The Port Dolphin project will bring in only about 300,000 cubic yards of sand, according to Hunsicker.

“The Islandwide project needs 2 million cubic yards, while the Coquina Beach renourishment effort requires only 200,000 cubic yards,” he said.

“It was not advantageous to place that sand in a storage location to wait for the Islandwide effort,” Hunsicker said. “It would wash away too quickly to still be available in a few years.”

The Sept. 2 press release said Port Dolphin LLC “is expected to share in the cost for studies, permits and construction of the renourishment project, though specifics have not been reached.”

Port Dolphin officials previously had agreed to move the pipeline route from just a few hundred yards north of Bean Point in Anna Maria to about two miles north of the Island.

The agreement now heads to the U.S. Coast Guard, which will take public comment before making a decision. The Coast Guard is the final government authority over the Intracoastal Waterway.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, however, is expected to put his stamp of approval on the project on Sept. 14, Hunsicker said.
Port Dolphin would then be able to start its project if the Coast Guard approves. The deadline for comment to the Coast Guard is Sept. 11, noted Hunsicker. A decision from the Coast Guard is expected no later than Oct. 26, he said.

If the Coast Guard approves the agreement, Hunsicker said he and marine engineers plan to inspect the sand along the pipeline route in November for quality. The sand has to meet certain criteria for use in a federal- or state-funded renourishment project.

Hunsicker said preliminary findings indicate the sand will meet renourishment standards for the Island, but the original estimate was that there would be about 2.7 million cubic yards of sand. A later estimate corrected that amount to 300,000 cubic yards.

“We need to get moving as fast as possible on this,” Hunsicker said. “The Coquina Beach project is already in the permit phase.”

But the planned renourishment of Island beaches in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, including the area between the Rod & Reel Pier and Bean Point in Anna Maria, won’t start until 2014-15, Hunsicker said.

Hunsicker said the Coquina Beach project has to be completed before the Islandwide project can begin. Some preliminary work, however, has been done on the Islandwide effort, he indicated.

Anna Maria residents and Mayor Fran Barford had been hopeful the Islandwide project could start in 2012 or earlier.

Although Barford was on vacation last week and could not be reached for comment, she likely will be disappointed to learn that Anna Maria’s beaches won’t be renourished until 2014-15.

The mayor was instrumental in having the DEP declare the beach along the city’s east shore as “critically eroded.” That change allowed the area to be eligible for federal and state renourishment, and to funded along with the next Islandwide renourishment project.

Without that coastline designation by the DEP, any renourishment effort in the area would have to come from city funds or through a private, resident initiative.

Anna Maria City Commissioner and Vice Mayor John Quam, however, said he was aware that the Coquina Beach renourishment effort would be completed before the Islandwide project, but he anticipated that Islandwide renourishment might begin as early as 2012, not 2014 as announced by Hunsicker.

“I’d like to see more details before making a comment” about the delay, Quam said.

A previous Islandwide beach renourishment project was done in 2002. A federal emergency effort begun in 2005 to renourish beaches eroded by a series of sever storms in 2004 was only partially successful. The contractor, Goodloe Marine of Apollo Beach, was unable to complete the project by the permit deadline and abandoned the effort.

Hunsicker said the DEP is ready to put the permitting process for the Port Dolphin pipeline sand at the top of its permit list, including the dredging permit.

“We could be dredging sand for Coquina Beach as early as 2011,” he said.

Anyone interested in sending comments about the Port Dolphin project can go online to www.regulations.gov, then click on “Submit a Comment” and enter “Port Dolphin.”