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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014

Sand pumps to run 24/7 soon in Pinellas


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Bulldozers and giant pipes extending into the Gulf of Mexico won’t be welcome sights for beach-goers in Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach this summer.

But without the 550,000 cubic yards of sand being pumped ashore during the next few months, four popular beaches might disappear with the waves.

In coming days, engineers will begin staging for a $16 million beach renourishment project backed with federal, state and county dollars that will add more than 100 feet to some parts of the shoreline.

The first load of sand is scheduled to be pumped onto Sunshine Beach at the north end of Treasure Island in the first days of July, followed by Sunset Beach, Upham Beach and Pass-a-Grille Beach.

The work should be done by early September, barring a particularly nasty tropical storm season.

Administrators from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will join Pinellas County’s coastal management team Tuesday night for a public meeting in Treasure Island to discuss details of the projects with residents.

“It will be a 24-hour operation and the beach will be closed for several hundred feet where the project is going on,” said Andy Squires, the county’s coastal manager.

The good news: “The project should move forward several hundred feet a day — even up to 1,000 feet a day,” he said.

Engineering contractors at Weeks Marine will move quickly to ensure no one section is closed off for more than a day or two, and beach-goers will be able to access points north and south of the work zone with paths running along the sand dunes, Squires said.

Workers will pile up sand to form “ramps” over the pipes, allowing people to get around the work site.

A barge will dredge sand from Egmont Key about 8,000 feet offshore. The sand will be pumped from a ship via underwater pipes to the beaches, where bulldozers will create a berm to shield it from the tide.

Crews will level the sand and make sure it contours to the surrounding slope of the beach before reopening it and moving to the next section.

“Even if they’re in front of a building today, they won’t be in front of that building tomorrow,” Squires said.

To keep on schedule, work will go on continuously, which means some beach residents might be awakened by the rumblings of machine engines in the wee hours.

In the mornings, members of Clearwater Marine Aquarium will check the sand for sea turtle nests and carefully move them out of the work area, if necessary, Squires said.

The other major worry, being in the first weeks of hurricane season, is the prospect of seeing the loads of precious sand swept away by high winds and battering waves.

The sustained winds and rain of Tropical Storm Debby two summers ago caused severe erosion of shorelines such as Sunset Beach and Pass-A-Grille Beach.

Several years ago a nourishment project scheduled for the winter months in Sand Key took well into the summer months to complete due to high winds, Squires said.

“We’re hoping no tropical storms come through. Typically, on an average daily basis, the winds are usually less severe (in the summer) than they are in the winter,” he said.

The county rebuilds erosion “hot spots” such as Sunset Beach about every four years due to natural sand loss and storms — costly maintenance that relies heavily on increasingly uncertain federal funds.

In recent decades, the federal government has paid for 60 percent of beach renourishment projects while the state and county split the remaining 40 percent of the cost.

Newly elected Congressman David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, has promised to protect beach funds in Pinellas County and recently succeeded in extending authorization for future projects in Treasure Island through at least 2019.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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