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Island beach replenishment project, still unfinished, ends after three years

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of March 29, 2012)

The north island beach replenishment project, which ran two years beyond schedule and may top $20 million in costs, was left incomplete when workers packed up and left last week without placing the final sand the project design called for on the dunes.

County engineers had to quickly redesign the project when they were told the Ranch Road Lake sand mine would not be able to mine and process enough sand to renourish both the beaches and the dunes in the project area.

“They’ll be done by the end of the month, but they will be 11,000 cubic yards short of sand,” Indian River Shores Town Councilman Mike Ochsner told his fellow council members.

Ochsner is the town’s representative on the county’s Beaches and Shores Advisory Commission.  "They’re only completing the berm and the beach. There will be no dune feature,” he said.

Public records obtained Monday confirmed that the project would not be completed as designed, despite all the extra time given to contractors and subcontractors to fulfill their promises to the county. The only good news in all of this is that the county won’t have to pay for the sand it isn’t getting, reducing the price tag of the last phase of the project by roughly $175,000.

“As directed by our board of county commissioners, staff will be preparing a change order reflecting the decrease in the contract costs due to sand volume shortfalls,” Gray said Monday. “Ranger has demobilized from Treasure Shores Park and it re-opened March 26th.  Dune planting will continue throughout the week.”

The last phase was designed to place 111,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach. As of March 16, Ranger Construction had been able to come up with 100,000 cubic yards.

“Due to lack of available beach-compatible sand however, Ranger has proposed eliminating the final 11,000 cubic yards of sand from the project, affecting a small section of the dune design template between Treasure Shores Beach Park and a point 1,500 feet south,” Gray wrote in a status report to the committee.

“Within the past few days, this portion of beach has been tilled and graded to accommodate the revised sand volume and to provide a smooth dune/berm transition,” he said.

The project was designed to place 586,000 cubic yards of beach-quality sand along a 6.6 mile stretch running from John’s Island to Treasure Shores Park.

It was supposed to cost $10.5 million for the sand, but the tab has steadily climbed to about $16.5 million. Over the course of three seasons, gas prices rose, increasing hauling costs, which ultimately led to an increase in the price of the sand. There were also additional mobilization and demobilization charges, and monitoring of a multi-phase project became more expensive.

Three years of monitoring the completed project – now spread over nearly six years to monitor all three phases – will cost roughly $1 million per year on top of the cost of the design, permitting and the sand. Should the monitoring show that sand from the project has washed away and covered any of the hard bottom or near-shore reef, the county would be required to construct an artificial reef offshore to mitigate this damage.

Estimates for that reef project are in the range of $1.1 to $1.5 million. All that totaled would run the tab of the project well over $20 million.

Proponents of the project still call it a success, however. But Commissioner Bob Solari, who represents residents in the southern part of this project, was never a big fan.

"It's unfortunate that they didn't finish the whole project. It would have been nice if they did. I still don't understand why they didn't and why they didn't want to," Solari said. "It will be interesting to see what the final staff report after the project says."

The trucked-in sand option was chosen by the commissioners over the dredging method that had always been used before under the rationale that trucking in the sand would provide local truck drivers with jobs and would save the taxpayers millions of dollars.

The county staff may apply to the state for reimbursement for the county funds expended, but it’s not hopeful that funding will ever materialize.

While the Florida Legislature included $27 million in the state budget for beach replenishment in the fiscal year beginning July 1, Indian River County was not among the seven beach project slated to receive money.