County hires consultant to design fix for eroded beaches
Here is the good news about the island’s eroding beaches: The Board of County Commissioners has approved a $142,763 contract for the design of a $3 million-plus project that will replenish beaches along 2.2 miles of shoreline, extending from Tracking Station Beach Park south to the Gables Oceanfront Condominiums.
That stretch of beach is the most economically important piece of sand in the county. It borders the Ocean Drive business district, and the island’s high-end hotels and restaurants are on these beaches. The county's updated Beach Preservation Plan reports more than 1.9 million beach visits a year to this section pump approximately $33.1 million into the local economy.
Here is the bad news: The narrow beaches at Jaycee Park, Sexton Plaza and Humiston Park that are the county’s most popular tourist attractions were classified as critically eroded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2008, and it will take the county at least three to four more years to actually get the needed sand onto the beaches.
Another downside is that commissioners apparently plan to use sand mined west of town instead of sand from offshore for replenishment, a process that led to extensive delays, huge cost overruns and lawsuits the last time a beach repair project was undertaken a couple of years ago.
The central beach shoreline was slated for repair in 2011 at a cost of $6.6 million. The county planned to place more than 200,000 cubic yards of sand to widen the beaches and restore protective dunes that would break the force of storm waves and keep buildings from being washed away.
But the beach replenishment program got bogged down on the north island in 2009 when the county commission voted to abandon the time-tested method of pumping offshore sand onto eroded beaches and decided to truck inland sand to the beaches and spread that instead.
Subsequent to the decision, the 6.6-mile north island repair job, which would likely have been done in a few months with offshore sand, ended up taking three years and costing twice as much as expected, $15 million in all, for sand purchase, placement and monitoring.
By the time the project finally wrapped up in 2012, the 2011 timeframe for fixing central beach was out the window. State money that helped pay for earlier beach replenishment had dried up. The county now says the central beach project will require 52,000 cubic yards of sand, and probably more.
County Coastal Engineer James Gray says the amount will be based on shoreline data gathered during the design and permitting process, which will include a detailed environmental impact assessment. He says it will take 12-18 months to complete the permitting process with at least another year and half to truck sand in and spread it on the beaches.
Since state funding went away during the long north island delay, the county will have to pay for the project in its entirety and hope for partial reimbursement later. Funds will come from local option tourist tax revenue and the county’s one cent sales tax.
India River County began beach renourishment in 1978. Since then, approximately 3.55 million cubic yards of sand have been placed. County officials say beach management efforts over the last decade have been successful, claiming that the shoreline has advanced an average of 2.6 feet per year compared to an estimated 1.0 foot per year retreat that would have occurred without renourishment.
CB&I Coastal Planning and Engineering Inc. was awarded the contract to commence the design and permitting work for the central beach project.