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Are you ready for this? 26,000 more are coming
BY LISA ZAHNER - STAFF WRITER (Week of September 17, 2009)

Shortly after snowbirds arrive this year bringing a bit more congestion than usual to the barrier island’s main artery, we can look forward to the start of a far less welcome surge in traffic on A1A: 26,000 dump trucks loaded with sand bound for the island’s beaches.

The Indian River County Commission’s decision a week ago to turn to inland sand mines – rather than to the customary off-shore pumping – for the sand needed to shore up a 6.5 mile stretch of beach between John’s Island and Treasure Shores Park tosses our island into uncharted territory.

Simply put, it has never been done this way here before.

When the county replenished the eroded beaches just south of the Sebastian Inlet and in the Porpoise Point area two years ago, it pumped in sand from the ocean floor. The many tons of sand were “chunneled” through a large pipe which ran under the water and up to the beach.

The only heavy equipment beachside residents saw were landscaping trucks stacked with plants to stabilize the shoreline, and a heavy equipment crew which moved along as the sand was pumped to place it strategically on the beach and the dunes.

This process will be different. Sand will be dug out of mines, processed, loaded into 26,000 dump trucks, hauled across our bridges, trucked up A1A, dumped on the beaches, and spread out according to the design.

Crews will work from four or five staging sites along A1A, to be located at county beach access points and parks. The work will take place Monday through Friday, from 7 am to 5 pm.

Jonathan Gorham, director of the county’s Coastal Engineering division, said he expects the process to begin shortly after the first of the year assuming the county staff is able to complete design and permit modifications, and get the whole process through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The County Commission’s decision to opt for trucking sand to the beaches and to award the contract to Ranger Construction, a Fort Pierce company, came as an 11th hour surprise.

Only days earlier, the county’s Beaches and Shores Preservation Advisory Committee voted to send the county commissioners a clear message to get the job done as quickly as possible and choose the off-shore dredging company used for the previous projects – even though their bid was higher than that of the sand truckers.

Mike Ochsner, Town of Indian River Shores appointee to that committee, made the motion to recommend to the County Commission that the first priority be completion of the Sector 3 project in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

“Isn’t timing the more important thing?” Oschner said. “There doesn’t appear to be any consideration that the offshore can be done 24/7 and won’t have any impact on our roads. I know, living on the island that we don’t want to see dump trucks.”

However, when the County Commission met on Sept. 8 to award the contract, they faced a room full of angry, mostly unemployed people waving picket signs about keeping the jobs and the money local.

It turned out to not matter that the demonstrators were being paid $15 to be there – and an extra $20 if they spoke – by the owner of a sand mine who coincidentally is the brother of County Commission Chairman Wesley Davis. Their pleas to keep the beach replenishment money in the local economy changed the dynamic of the meeting.

Even an official of the Town of Orchid, scene of one of the most eroded beaches, changed his position after hearing the demonstrators.

“I was a big supporter of getting the project done in the fastest way and was concerned about 60,000 trucks going across C.R. 510,” said William Troxell. “I was concerned about getting it through, but with the support of all the local people here, and most importantly I’ve heard an outpouring from so many people here, and maybe they were getting paid, but I think they were speeches from the heart.”

Troxell then rescinded his letter in support of sand-pumping and threw his support behind the upland sand providers “to keep the jobs in Indian River County.”

In the end, the County Commission voted to go with sand-mining – but awarded the contract to a company that does not plan to buy sand from the mine that hired the demonstrators.

Bill Glynn, chairman of the Beaches and Shores Preservation Advisory Committee and beachside resident, praised commissioners for the tough decision and called the outcome a “win, win” for Indian River County.

“I think they’ll be dancing in the streets on the barrier island, this is so badly needed,” said Glynn, who represents about 8,000 members of the 34 homeowner associations in the Barrier Island Coalition.

Fort Pierce-based Ranger Construction will contract with two trucking companies, one headquartered in Indian River County and one headquartered in St. Lucie County but using local truckers, to haul the sand onto the beach using all three of the county’s bridges.

By choosing a St. Lucie County firm, the county will keep more than $7 million in the region instead of spending it with Great Lakes Dredging out of Illinois, but whether the dollars will have an impact on the 15 percent jobless rate in Indian River county remains to be seen.

Vice President Schafer said he’ll be hiring about 25 people directly to work on the project, but those employees may come from Ft. Pierce.

According to Bob Schafer, vice president of Ranger, the company the County Commisson chose has a 25-year trackrecord of coming in on time and often under budget with public works projects, and has previously has carried out three beach renourishment projects – but nothing on this scale — in St. Lucie and Martin counties.

Ranger will contract with three different sand mines for the 480,000 cubic yards of sand needed for the project. Nick Stewart Mining in St. Lucie County, Henry Fischer and Sons in Sebastian and Ranch Road Lake Mine off 82nd Avenue west of Vero will all be supplying processed sand for the project.

“For all of the upland sand suppliers, the quality of the sand that is on the ground is not as good as the quality of the sand they’ve proposed to provide,” said Mike Walther of Coastal Tech, the consultant on the project. “They will process, sort out the better quality material and screen out the more course product.

“We have to assume, both the county and DEP, that they (the upland sand mines) can provide acceptable material,” said Walther. “We believe they can, but it’s a matter of permitting.

“I think that the upland provider, because he’s got good documentation and good quality sand, I think it is feasible that we might obtain permits within 60- 90 days,” Walther said. “If we can show that the contractor can provide a consistent quality of sand, it’s feasible that we can obtain permits within 60-90 days. I don’t think it’s going to be that complicated, if we can get the upland sand provider to work with the (DEP) staff.”

Rep. Ralph Poppell, who chairs the Florida House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee which sets the budget for DEP, expressed the hope the permitting might even move quicker.

“First of all, I’ve been talking to DEP, started about three or four weeks ago, to the deputy secretary and she said it hinges on how quickly the county can move,” Poppell said. “It’s just a matter of altering the permit from the ocean sand to the upland sand and I’m going to follow up on it to help.”

Whatever the plusses and minuses of using sand from mines rather than pumped from offshore, the decision to open the bidding to both approaches clearly saved taxpayers a great deal of money.

At $7 million for sand, plus about $2 million for permitting and monitoring, the project will cost less than half the original estimate of $19.7, which the county could not afford on its own. Now, with $4.68 million in help from the Sebastian Inlet Taxing District and the potential for state cost-sharing reimbursement in the future, the project might not cost the county a dime.

“We actually owe the fact that we’re voting on this to the upland sand suppliers. The bids that we’re talking about today are about 35 to 40 percent cheaper because of the upland sand suppliers being in the process,” said County Commissioner Bob Solari. “I want to express my appreciation of their efforts to make this process more competitive.”