This editorial piece was written for the GICIA October, 2012 newsletter.
BY KATE GOODERHAM - It has been five years since the Gasparilla Island beach restoration project was completed. For five years, island property owners have had the storm protection they needed. Many people have forgotten where the eroded shoreline was; even those who knew surprise themselves with how close it used to be.
Although there are many benefits to a beach restoration project, the most important one to property owners is storm protection. A University of Florida study authored by Dr. Robert Dean was the first to quantify the storm protection benefits for a variety of beach restoration projects in Florida. It concluded that a 100-foot-wide beach reduced damage substantially. In a 25-year storm event, the reduction was 51 percent, in a 50-year storm event the reduction was 39 percent, and in a 100-year storm event, the change was 25 percent.
During the past five years, you’ve had the opportunity to see that in action. The comparatively minor storm events that used to cause great concern are no longer an issue. You’ve seen that in storms, the beach is sacrificed, not your homes. People along the Gulf have not had to worry about the potential of waves breaking on their doorsteps. The beach has been your storm protection insurance. It not only helps to avoid the costs of damage, but also the inconvenience.
Although the Gasparilla Island beach restoration project had been approved in 1970, it took until December 2006 to begin construction. The project included removing 27 derelict coastal structures and placing 1,072,781 cubic yards of sand on 16,390 feet (3.1 miles) of shoreline. Stone from the removed structures was placed on an artificial reef 12 miles offshore of Boca Grande as required by the project permit.
The beach was also re-vegetated to help retain the upland sand. The project was completed in April 2007.
Originally, the project included constructing two-T-head groins and a segmented breakwater in key locations to protect the new beach. These were not constructed for several reasons. First, the budget estimate for the cost of the structures was $2.5 million, while the low bid was $5.6 million - more than double the budget estimate. Second, the structures would only benefit small areas: the two T-head groins would primarily benefit the state park area south of Belcher Road, and the segmented breakwater would benefit the south end of the island through the Seagrape state park area. To put this in perspective, for $5.6 million (using the $11 a cubic yard net for the 2007 project), the county could buy 509,000 cubic yards of sand. That amount is about 75 percent of the rough estimate for the future maintenance project cost.
Finally, the federal government would not agree to any reimbursement for the structures, so the entire cost would have been borne by the state, county and property owners.
In the meantime, construction of the revetment at the Belcher Road seawall and the various agencies’ better understanding of the island’s littoral transport system resulted in a change in the design objectives.Then the three-year monitoring results arrived in 2010. The good news was that the beach was performing as expected with 86 percent of the sand remaining in the system. The other discovery was that the structures were not as necessary in retaining sand as originally thought. This was most dramatically shown in the beaches near the Boca Grande lighthouse that continued to grow through the third year after construction without the structures.
With high cost and limited benefits, the county had to reconsider the west coast of Florida.
Over the years, attention has focused on the intensity, storm surge and size of tropical events. Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac have added additional considerations: duration and direction. Slow-moving Debby resulted in wind-driven waves and a three-foot surge that lasted for three days. As a result, sand was moved onto a nearshore sand bar where it provides a protective function as a natural breakwater.
The good news is that some of it will return to the lower beach over the next few months as winds and waves push it back toward shore.
The beach restoration project has a design life of seven to 10 years before we expect it will need to be maintained. Right now the project is on Lee County’s project list for 2014-15. The county has begun the preliminary effort of preparing for the maintenance project (which is also called renourishment), and will adjust that timing as necessary based on the ongoing monitoring.
The major issue that must be sorted out with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is whether this project can continue to be a federally funded project and, if so, how it can be accomplished. The federal government committed to reimbursing $5.9 million for the 2007 project. They have only paid $4.2 million. Because Congress is no longer considering earmarks, $1.7 million from the last project has not been reimbursed. It appears Lee County will have to absorb that loss.
Corps officials must also determine if the maintenance (renourishment) can be deemed a Corps project. Discussions have moved to the division level and may move up for consideration at headquarters, but this does not bode well for federal participation in the future renourishment project. This may affect how future costs are allocated between property owners, the county and the state.
Kate Gooderham, APR, CPRC, is president of Gooderham & Associates, Inc., a Fort Myers, Florida, consulting firm established in 1986.
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