Story Tools

Date of Issue: July 29, 2005

Dennis was a menace

Fire on Anna Maria
Where's the beach?
Just a few weeks ago, the beach along the bay side of North Shore Drive in Anna Maria extended out some 20 to 30 feet from the seawall. After Hurricane Dennis swept through the Gulf of Mexico, however, the beach sand has all but disappeared. This photo was taken just north of the Rod & Reel Pier about two hours after high tide on July 20 and shows waves still lapping at the seawall. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Click image to enlarge

Residents along the bay side of North Shore Drive in Anna Maria are wondering what happened to their beach after Hurricane Dennis churned through the Gulf of Mexico recently, just a few hundred miles offshore.

While Anna Maria Island did not take a direct hit, a number of beach areas along the Island suffered erosion from the waves and winds generated by Dennis, and that apparently included the beach along North Shore Drive.

"Dennis certainly changed the beach," said Joe Zambico of 869 N. Shore Drive. "The water seems to be much higher now."

Zambico said that during Hurricane Dennis, which passed by Anna Maria Island about 200 miles west in the Gulf of Mexico, waves overran the seawall and came up into his house.

Now, three weeks after Dennis, "the situation is much worse. It's not just a splash, the water comes over the seawall, especially at high tide."

When he first bought his house in 1994, Zambico never even realized he had a seawall. Sand and sea grapes covered his back yard and he had about 15 to 20 feet of beach. Gradually, his back yard and the beach have disappeared and about five years ago, the seawall emerged.

Today, his backyard is the sea wall.

"I have no idea when it was built. I never knew it was there, " he said.

Over the past few years, Zambico said he's had the beach return for short periods and the high-water mark recede from his seawall, but following that, as soon as the first storm comes through, the sand always disappears and the water comes back.

"I can only imagine what will happen if we have another storm. There'll be some serious flooding here if we take another hit."

Three years ago, other North Shore Drive residents experienced a similar event as their tiny beach areas were rapidly disappearing. The Anna Maria City Commission eventually hired Dr. Robert Dean of the University of Florida to study erosion in the area, including Bean Point, and determine if the erosion was long-term or cyclic.

But some area residents, including Tom Turner of North Shore Drive, had argued then that the sand in that area comes and goes as Mother Nature directs. Indeed, a photograph of Bean Point taken just 10 years ago shows about 15 to 25 feet of beach sand along North Shore Drive.

The Dean study has not yet been completed and presented to the city, but Mayor SueLynn has acknowledged that the study will only determine causes, not offer any solutions. Dean, however, has indicated he could provide some suggestions to halt erosion, if the study determines the disappearing sand is not a cyclic event along Anna Maria's bay side.

Indeed, there appear to be few solutions or much assistance, if any, available to North Shore Drive residents, other than on their own and out of their own pockets.

The beach area did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the 2002 beach renourishment project and was similarly left out of the current emergency renourishment effort.

The city could step in with a program, but such an effort would require numerous local, state and federal permits, in addition to engineering studies and funding.

"That would probably take some deep pockets," said SueLynn. The city has no emergency fund for beach renourishment, but the mayor said she was hopeful the Dean study could offer some insight into the problem and solutions.

Affected residents might be able to pay to install sand-saving devices or their own beach renourishment, but such a move requires a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit, a lengthy process.

But the DEP itself may offer a solution.

According to Gene Chalicki of the DEP, the area could be designated as a critically eroded coastline by the DEP and eligible for state and federal funds for renourishment. A key element of that designation is whether or not Anna Maria's bayside area is considered part of the Gulf of Mexico, Chalicki said.

It's a lot easier to get funds if a critically eroded shore is on the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean, he noted.

Turner indicated that many years ago, a DEP official had told him the department considered that area part of the Gulf of Mexico, but the city has never received any official notice.

Chalicki said most coastal reviews are done in the early part of the year, so a request for a review from Anna Maria could possibly be done early next year.

He added that a coastal renourishment project does not necessarily have to be beach renourishment with accompanying easements, massive dredging and involvement by county, state and federal agencies. There are other types of renourishment programs and various funding sources, he indicated, but most require a coastal area first be designated by his office as critically eroded.

That doesn't help Zambico in the short term, however.

"I've thought about building a higher seawall," said Zambico. "I hope that would fix the problem, but beach renourishment would be nice. I don't understand why they can renourish the Gulf side, but can't touch the bay side."

And a number of sections of Bean Point are also eroded, but likewise not eligible for beach renourishment funds.

"There's a big dropoff right along Bean Point," said Zambico. A few years ago, bathers at Bean Point could wade out into the water for several yards.

He said he'd like to see the Dean study for any suggestions to the erosion problem, but unless the city has any funding plan to halt erosion on the bay side, affected North Shore Drive residents will likely be looking at their own wallets for relief.

Unless Mother Nature solves the problem for them.

Mayor meets with DEP

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said she was to meet with Kathryn Sloko of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at 9 a.m. today to get “answers to questions” about possible beach renourishment on the bay side of the city. The mayor has also enlisted the aid of the Manatee-Sarasota legislative delegation to get information on funding of renourishment projects.