By Cheryl Blackerby
The last of four beach renourishment projects is underway, and it’s up against an April 30th deadline that may not be met if rough seas continue.
Work on the project at Boca Raton’s north beach started March 23. The dredge was forced to stop pumping sand March 25 because of strong winds.
“We had to pull off because of the weather. We hope to start back as soon as the winds calm down,” said Jennifer Bistyga, engineer with the City of Boca Raton.
Boca’s north beach as well as beaches in Ocean Ridge and Delray Beach are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach renourishment projects. The Army Corps deadline for those projects is April 30, and if the project is not done by that time the city of Boca will have to apply for a new permit. (The fourth project was south Boca Raton beach, which is not an Army Corps project, but the city used the same contractor to save money.)
“If we don’t meet the deadline, we would have to go for a formal permit extension because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t allow us to dredge beyond April 30,” she said.
The city would probably only be able to get an extension into mid-May because of turtle nesting season, she said.
But the dredge has already placed about 40,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach in its first two days, a good head start, she said. “We feel confident we have more than enough days to get the job done before the deadline.”
Meanwhile, winds and surf have carved out high escarpments on Ocean Ridge’s beach, a renourishment project that was finished Feb. 9.
“At the southern end of Oceanfront Park, there’s an escarpment about 1,550 feet long and 4 feet high, and places that are 6 feet high. It’s the biggest escarpment I’ve seen in Palm Beach County,” said Tom Warnke, a member of the executive committee of the Palm Beach chapter of Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit environmental group that works to protect oceans and beaches.
At the north end of Hammock Park, another escarpment is about 550 feet long and 2 to 3 feet high, he said.
“High tide water comes right to the base of the escarpments, where turtles build nests. The tide washes out the eggs,” he said.
The county is aware of the escarpments, said Tracy Logue, coastal geologist for Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management.
“We’ve been monitoring the escarpments and updating the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on the conditions,” she said. “If necessary, a knock-down will be conducted as late as possible to minimize additional scarping during the peak (turtle) nesting period.”
The county sea turtle experts will make the decisions on whether or not to relocate any newly deposited nests near an escarpment, she said.
The county has a small window of opportunity to move a nest. “According to state permit conditions, nests requiring relocation must be moved no later than 9 a.m. the morning following deposition,” she said.
The non-profit Reef Rescue group has been researching the turbidity produced by the sand pumping at all four beaches, and saw few problems with Delray Beach but a big problem at Boca’s north beach.
“They were able to keep the silt plumes under control in Delray Beach. This company has a smaller piece of equipment than the big dredge used last year, and they could control the amount of of silt generated. I don’t think we have any impacts to reefs,” said Ed Tichenor, director of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue.
Boca’s north beach is a different story, he said.
“With just one day of pumping, we saw a massive amount of turbidity. We could see turbidity coming off the beach and going all the way to Boca Inlet,” he said. “Unlike the other projects, this is a critical habitat for endangered staghorn coral. I’m very concerned about this project.”
On March 25, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel came to Ocean Ridge to make a ceremonial check presentation for the $12 million in federal money that Congress is contributing through the Army Corps to the county’s beach projects, including Delray Beach, Ocean Ridge and north Boca Raton beach — enough to cover about 60 percent of the work. The rest is coming from the state, county and city governments.
“Beaches mean much more to our community than just a place to get a suntan,” Frankel said. “Beaches protect our property, they are home to natural habitats, and they attract visitors from all over the world. This means millions of dollars in property taxes and tourist dollars to our region.”