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Beach project falls behind; Marbrisa, Baytree at risk
BY LISA ZAHNER - STAFF WRITER (Week of April 22, 2010)

The multimillion dollar beach replenishment project isn’t yet at the half way mark with just days to the May 1 deadline, leaving the communities of Marbrisa and Baytree at a high risk of not getting promised sand.  

County staff conceded Monday the project was weeks behind schedule, and informed members of the Beaches and Shores Preservation Committee they will apply for an extension of nine to 15 days to allow Ranger Construction to finish building up the berm and dune on the remaining 12,000 linear feet of the project.  

But with state and federal regulators fixated on the start of turtle nesting season, and requiring close monitoring on the quality of sand on the project, an extension seems a bit wishful.  

And with each day, the project seems to be falling further behind.  

“It’s is construction and there always something, every day, that causes a headache,” said Ranch Lake Mine owner Steve Smith.  

Crews did not work on Monday due to impassable roads leading to and from the Ranch Road Lake Mine west of town, as the roads were flooded and rutted from the downpours of the weekend.  

As of (March 19) a mere 41 percent of the shoreline had been constructed and inspected.  

So far, 84 percent of the project time had elapsed, but only 75 percent of the sand had been delivered.  

Without the extension, crews will need to work seven days per week -- without equipment or weather delays -- and deliver 7,331 cubic yards (about 407 truckloads) of sand to the beach every single day until April 30. The average progress over the past two weeks has been 210 truckloads per day.  

If an extension of nine days is granted, crews will need to deliver 225 truckloads per day, seven days per week, to finish by May 9.  

Ranger Construction Vice President Bob Schafer was not present at the meeting, so Ranch Road Lake Mine owner Smith spoke on behalf of the crews working the project. Smith advised the county to request a 15-day extension, to account for glitches and hiccups.  

Smith absorbed the brunt of the criticism from committee members, as the mining operation has caused the majority of the delays. “If we could get the sand on the beach, I think we could finish,” Committee Chairman Bill Glynn said.  

Though construction is lagging way behind on the beach, it’s being blamed on not having either adequate quantities of sand to work with or not having the proper mix of grain size material available to put in the right place. Since the project started, crews have lost an average of two to three days’ work per week to all those things -- rain, high winds, surf, lack of material to haul and grate.  

County Coastal Engineer James Gray said he is waiting on information from Ranger to get a good number to take to regulators.  

“They seem to be amenable to our request as long as we’ll be able to complete sections of beach and not be asking for further extensions, Gray said.”That will significantly impact whether or not the extension is granted.”  

Gray said he didn’t think the extra days of work would cost the county any more money, since the purpose would be to catch up for lost time that was in the original contract. Glynn said the extension is critical to the project.  

“Baytree and Marbrisa have to be done,” said Glynn, the project’s biggest proponent, who said residents of those communities had been “victimized” by being scheduled last in this project, since they spent large sums of their own money to truck in emergency sand after the 2004 hurricanes and were promised the sand -- which has not yet materialized -- long ago by county commissioners.  

Glynn said Baytree and Marbrisa may only wine up with “downdrift sand” which washes south from Orchid, Disney and Sea Oaks.  

One Marbrisa resident correctly pointed out that, should the county not be granted an extension, any areas not finished this year might not get their sand next year either should regulators be unhappy with the reproduction rates of sea turtles this season.  

The county is conducting a “test plan” to monitor and compare nesting and survival rates of turtles to ensure that the upland sand makes good habitat for turtles. Should the upland sand pass muster with state and federal officials, it may be permitted to proceed with Phase Two of the project.  

Should the numbers not prove the success of the $15 million experiment, the county may be forced to bring in a dredge to complete the area from Golden Sands Park to Treasure Shores Park.  

The next beach replenishment project is set for Central Beach in 2017. The sand now being placed on the beach is scheduled to last about eight years before it needs to be replenished again.  

So far, committee members said, the turtles seem to like the new sand, as they’ve been observed nesting in the material recently placed by Ranger crews. This could go either way for the prospect of an extension, as the more nesting activity taking place, the more nests to potentially be disturbed.  

Orchid Town Councilman Bill Troxell, who commented that the sporadic nature of the work on the beach project was disconcerting, adeptly expressed the somewhat humorous and helpless optimism barrier island residents are feeling about the future of beach restoration depending on the reproductive success of turtles.  

“We put signs up in Orchid ‘New sand to the right, please nest here’,” Troxell said.