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Sand for beach project ready; permit still needed
BY LISA ZAHNER - STAFF WRITER (Week of October 29, 2009)

photo to the left of Real estate developer Stephen Smith, co-owner of Ranch Road Lake LLC, on the site of his sand mine with the dredge equipment that has already spewed out most of the sand needed for barrier island beach replenishment.

Hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand compatible with the Vero barrier island’s beaches have been dredged out of mines and are piled up west of town.

All the county needs now is for a permit to arrive in time. It might take a bureaucratic miracle — and working seven days a week -- to get the beach renourishment project done this season.

The county is relying on an ambitious timeline that assumes the various state and federal agencies will give their blessing to the project in record time, which would allow for completion by May 1 – the start of turtle nesting season.

The situation is so tenuous that county commissioners and sand mine operators are asking barrier island residents with properties on precarious stretches of the 6.6-mile project to snap erosion photos and email them to elected offi cials with pleas to help secure state and federal permits so the project can be done this year.

“That would hopefully make a difference, that’s the only thing that will get this project done this season within the time constraints of sea turtle nesting,” said Stephen Smith, co-owner of the Ranch Road Lake sand mine.

County Commissioner Bob Solari is not convinced that the updated timeline is based on the realities of the regulatory process.

“I defi nitely have signifi cant concerns that there is a high probability that we can’t meet what the staff thinks is a reasonable schedule,” Solari said.

He plans to fi nd out before the board meets again Nov. 3 so commissioners can make better decisions.

Among other things, the updated timeline assumes that Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will only take 30 days to issue the permit, when they legally have 90 days to work on it. It assumes the same tight deadlines for other agencies who must also issue approval.

Replenishment project has been on the rocks for weeks

The past couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster ride for barrier island residents from Treasure Shores Park to John’s Island who have been waiting nearly a decade to get sand on their storm-weary shoreline.

Earlier this month, reports showed that the use of upland sand would, in time, cover up an offshore reef, so less sand would have to be used in the project. That would force the county to reduce by 26 percent – and in some parts as much as 88 percent -- the amount of sand that could be placed on the beach.

The cold snap Vero Beach received on Oct. 17 brought erosion that took some three to six feet from the shoreline, making the call for immediate relief more urgent. With winter’s turbulent season coming up, and some condominium buildings and homes perilously close to the edge at high tide, hundreds of millions of dollars in property could be at stake if there is more erosion.

On Oct. 19, sand mine operators submitted new sand samples – comparable to those collected from offshore sources -- in an effort to rectify the design changes and get permitting through to put more sand in place. Those new samples passed muster with the computer models and county staff is now making the changes to the permit requests.

If everything goes smoothly -- even with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays in the mix -- permits may be issued the last week in February for a start date of about March 15, leaving 45 days to get nearly 500,000 cubic yards of sand onto the beach by May 1.

This will require hauling about 600 truckloads of sand per day, possibly six or seven days per week.

On Monday, county staffers and engineering consultants met to redesign the project so every area can get its full complement of sand. A more coarse sand material will be strategically placed on the fl at part of the beach, which is subject to the most wave action, and less coarse sand will be used to stabilize the dunes, resulting in the full 472,000 cubic yards of sand being placed on the beach.

Rep. Ralph Poppell, who chairs the Natural Resources Appropriations Committee in the Florida’s House of Representatives, has pledged his support as has Sen. Joe Negron and Sen. Mike Haridopolos. Congressman Bill Posey’s offi ce said he would work with the local offi cials to do anything he could to expedite the process.

Economics — not expediency — drove upland sand choice

Faced with 15 percent unemployment and lobbying from local businesses to keep more than $7 million in taxpayer dollars in the local area, commissioners voted to forge relatively new ground and complete the project with upland sand.

Approximately 150 to 200 jobs -- the vast majority temporary, contractor jobs which offer no benefi ts or long-term employment prospects — are expected to be generated from the $7.2 million contract the county hopes to execute with Ranger Construction within fi ve days of securing permits.

Sand from mines has been used for beach replenishment projects in Indian River County on an emergency basis to prop up structures after storm damage, when the quantity needed and the urgency did not permit a large-scale dredging operation.

Brevard County did a beach project in the Indialantic area with upland sand from Ranch Road Lake Mine, one of the three mines providing the sand for the upcoming Indian River project. Ranger Construction has also completed a few small beach jobs related to construction projects, such as around the Florida Power and Light facility in Martin County.

It’s common for the beach to be stabilized to mitigate new oceanfront structures and upland sand is used for this purpose.

The project that seems to be causing the permitting queasies in this case is a St. Lucie county replenishment project using unprocessed upland sand, which had to be removed after it was placed on the beach because it was not compatible and started caking and clumping up on the beach.

Different sand suppliers will be working on our north barrier island project and have assured the county that the sand will be processed to specifications.

Once the sand is installed, the dunes will be stabilized with native plants and consultants will monitor the beaches, reef impact and sea turtle nesting activity for years and report back to Florida’s DEP.