By Cheryl Blackerby
The clock is ticking for restoration of South County beaches. The Jan. 28 deadline for requesting sand for beaches ravaged by Hurricane Sandy has passed, and likely will not be extended.
Meanwhile, the narrow window for beach restoration is closing in. Turtle nesting season starts March 1 and dredging needs to be finished by then. And if the damaged beaches aren’t repaired, turtles will have a tough time trying to climb steep scarps, as high as 5 feet, carved out by Sandy’s waves.
“The waves chewed the beaches out and took the top layer of sand off. Anything over a couple of feet is a problem for turtles. If they lay their eggs at water level the eggs will get washed out, or the turtles will go somewhere else,” said Dan Bates, deputy director of Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management.
Beaches from Manalapan through Delray Beach got the most damage along the South County coast, but Delray and Ocean Ridge lucked out because they had regularly scheduled beach renourishment projects in the works before Sandy. Delray Beach’s project starts this month.
Ocean Ridge’s sand restoration is next year, but the beaches will benefit from sand dredged out of the Boynton Inlet this month.
In South Palm Beach, Town Council members gave unanimous support for a plan by a citizens’ group in Palm Beach that calls for renourishment and new groins south of the Lake Worth pier – a move which might benefit South Palm Beach beaches in the future.
But the council stopped short of committing to spend $5,000 to $13,000 a year for a monitoring plan of town beaches that is not guaranteed to lead to restore the shoreline.
Save our Shoreline, a group of residents living in condominiums in southern Palm Beach, urged the council to support the plan developed by a coastal engineer they hired.
“Your last chance to get sand in your system is from (the south end of Palm Beach),” said SOS representative Madeline Greenberg.
Last year, Palm Beach County commissioners halted plans for a project to install breakwaters off-shore and pump sand onto the South Palm Beach shore based on environmental concerns.
Delray Beach received an emergency permit from the state to expand the scope of its beach project to areas north and south of the original plans, where 3- to 5-foot scarps stand where there were dunes and a wide, gently-sloping stretch of sand.
But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is requiring the extra sand to be hauled from inland mines approved by the DEP, which would cost as much as $45 per cubic yard, instead of the $7 it would cost from pumping sand from offshore while the dredge is in place for the planned project.
The reason the DEP likes inland sand is “it’s quite nice and it’s graded, cleaned and ideal for dunes,” Bates said. “If you are doing a small dune restoration project, it makes sense to truck it in from an inland mine because it’s not much sand. But bigger projects such as in Delray Beach where they are bringing in a million yards of sand, you should dredge offshore.”
The city approved a contract with Coastal Planning & Engineering of Boca Raton to add sand to beach areas critically eroded by Sandy, but not included in the original project plans, according to Richard Spadoni, executive director of CPE. The repair would be allowed for the dune at the northernmost 100 feet of the public beach and 500 feet north of that.
But commissioners are still hoping to share the same offshore “borrow” area for sand as that project. Acting City Manager Doug Smith said based on the amount of fill DEP would allow, the project “would be a significant reduction to higher cost estimates we were looking at before.”
“We have the dredge, we have the sand, and we have the beach that needs it. All we need is for DEP to say OK,” said Delray Beach Mayor Tom Carney.
The city and citizens’ groups including Save Our Seacoast, Beach Property Owners Association and Florida Coalition for Preservation, sent a letter to the DEP requesting the extra offshore sand for dune and beach rebuilding in time for hurricane season and while the price is right.
“The dredge will soon be in place. Turtle season is looming. The next big storm may be right around the corner, and we need the dunes to protect State Road A1A and structures as far west as the Intracoastal,” said Robert Ganger, chairman of Florida Coalition for Preservation. His members want to work with other coastal cities to explore sharing costs of sand, dune vegetation and dredges with other municipalities.
The greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District commissioners also have expressed interest in working as a region to solve issues related to finding money for beach renourishment to lowering costs of sand and dredging.
Municipalities could at least share dredges, said Steve Laine, vice president of Boca Highland Beach Condo Association, which represents about 10,000 residents in 63 condominiums. It’s too late for Boca and Highland Beach to request the use of the dredge that will be in Delray Beach this month, but perhaps they could in the future, he said.
His group spent $30,000 on sea oat planting on their dunes and lost the plants to Sandy’s surge. Sand is returning to his association’s beaches, he said, and they didn’t lose nearly as much sand as the beaches to the north in Delray Beach. “But the beaches certainly aren’t the way they were.”
While his association ponders whether to spend more money on sea oats, they are also wondering how they are going to repair beach damage from future storms.
“We’re going to have to look at other funding for the future, and look at the benefits of municipalities working together on beach renourishment projects,” said Laine.
The Highland Beach Town Commission has agreed to begin negotiations with Coastal Planning & Engineering for a feasibility study of beach restoration alternatives. The town wants CPE to help it get a handle on what short-term and long-term beach restoration options are available – and what the costs would be. The town expects the cost of the study to be in the neighborhood of $15,000.
In Manalapan, ocean side residents have united in an effort to repair more than a dozen seawalls that succumbed to Sandy’s pounding. Fifteen residents have obtained town and state permits to repair seawalls and three others have state permits. Eleven of the 15 are working together with a single contractor.
According to Bates, significant sand is returning to beaches. “When the storm [Sandy] deflated the beaches, it ended up on sand bars near shore. It’s coming back and the beaches are getting wide again but lower. We have seen recovery up and down the coastline.” Ú
Margie Plunkett, Rich Pollack and Tim O’Meilia contributed to this story.