County gives update on fall beach renourishment for AMI

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Beach erosion exposes a buried rope fence that was installed to protect a dune area at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Beach renourishment projects for Anna Maria Island are on the fall calendar.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, updated county commissioners Feb. 12 on beach renourishment plans, including the area from 79th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass.

The first project is a minor repair to Coquina Beach, using sand dredged from Longboat Pass to replenish the beach in Bradenton Beach.

The second project, beginning in November with completion by July 2020, will cover the beachfront from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach.

The section of work is known as the central beach project and is authorized to receive federal funding. At a total cost of $16 million, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay 54 percent. The state and county will split the remainder.

The third project will begin at Fifth Street South and end at Longboat Pass, at a total cost of $4 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will shoulder 75 percent of the cost, with the state and county sharing the remainder.

For the third project, Hunsicker plans to coordinate with the contractor hired for the central beach project by the Army Corps of Engineers to avoid additional mobilization costs.

At a total cost of around $20 million, the projects would replace more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand lost to erosion. Dredging from an offshore sandbar of beach-quality sand will be carried in pipes to the beach.

Engineer Thomas Pierro, a consultant for the county and director of Boca Raton-based Coastal Planning and Engineering, explained to commissioners how sand erosion on the island occurs.

Pierro said the beaches at the northwestern end of the island are maintained by a 20-25 year cycle, where eroding beach sand drifts to Passage Key to the north before making its way back to the island.

Sand also drifts from the middle of the island to its northern and southern ends, sometimes at the same time, according to Pierro.

The north-south migration maintains the northwestern end of the island but, at the southern end, Coquina Beach sand moves into Longboat Pass. All the while, the beaches in the middle of the island suffer from the movement and storms accelerate the erosion.

Pierro said the best solution is to replace sand in renourishment projects consisting of two sections: a design beach, which serves as protection for upper beach and dunes against storm erosion, and advanced renourishment, which serves as a buffer for the design beach.

He added that the county’s intention is to maintain the protective buffer both sections provide the upper beach and the infrastructure beyond in perpetuity.

County Commissioner Stephen R. Jonnson expressed pessimism about the success of renourishment projects.

“Not to be Mr. Doom and Gloom, but we know that this is all never going to work in the long run,” Jonnson said. “With the sea rise coming on, global warming, storms getting worse and worse. … In the long run, I don’t think you can fight with Mother Nature and win more often than not.”

Hunsicker said renourishment would help beaches resist up to 4 feet of sea level rise, but wouldn’t serve as a permanent solution.

Jonnson said he spoke with several constituents who asked him why the county spends money on renourishment, to which he would reply that much of the cost is shouldered by the federal government and state.

County Commissioner Betsy Benac added that county funds for renourishment come from the tourist development tax — a 5 percent tax on the revenue from rentals of six months or less.

She added with humor that she is happy to oversee the beaches.

“As your at-large county commissioner that doesn’t live on the island, I will tell you, I take my responsibility to evaluate the beaches very seriously,” Benac said, with a chuckle. “Even working hard on weekends, holidays, Friday nights, you can find me there, evaluating the conditions of our beautiful beaches.”

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