More than three years ago county coastal engineer Michael Dombrowski stood before the Board of County Commissioners and uttered words that proved prophetic.

More than three years ago county coastal engineer Michael Dombrowski stood before the Board of County Commissioners and uttered words that proved prophetic.

A final number, a sticker price, if you will, on a beach restoration project for St. Joseph Peninsula would only be known once the bids from dredge contractors were submitted, Dombrowski cautioned.

Until then, estimates were just that, estimates.

One of the most significant drivers of cost, he added, would ultimately be availability of a dredge contractor in an area, the Gulf of Mexico, where less than a half-dozen operate under the good graces of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That, fast-forwarded to late last month, proved on point as bids for the job came in 40 percent over Dombrowski’s cost estimate.

The bids have opened discussions about available options, said Warren Yeager, executive director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition.

This after a nearly three-year slog, a “process,” county administrator Don Butler told commissioners last month, to be positioned to bid-out an estimated $12 million project to restore more than five miles of peninsula beach.

The hiccup is that the three bids submitted last month came in no lower than $17 million.

The available funds, on the other hand, amount to $11 million-$12 million from a variety of sources, including the Department of Environmental Protection, municipal service taxes on coastal property owners, a portion of tourist development bed tax revenue earmarked for beaches and first-year direct allocation dollars out of the RESTORE Act.

The lowest bid was $17.8 million, the second-lowest $18.4 million.

The third bid came in another $12 million higher, nearly three times the projected budget.

Yeager said the bidding was likely impacted by the storms that have swirled through the region this spring and summer and the Army’s charge to dredge contractors to maintain inlets and beaches up and down the Gulf coast.

The beach restoration, in terms of scale and priority, was down the list at the moment.

“They are just so busy,” Yeager said last week.

On Tuesday, during a special meeting, the BOCC formally rejected the bids.

Butler said the goal was to bring staff recommendations on options to the board sometime next month.

A possible option is a Taunton family proposal to provide the sand from their inland sand source.

James Taunton Construction and Taunton Sands, both LLCs, proposed to supply and place 1.15 cubic yards of sand on the peninsula beaches.

The estimated cost is also in the $17 million range, but Taunton said last month that is a more reachable figure for the county working with a local contractor compared to an offshore dredging company.

The proposal would also, Taunton said, have the benefit of using RESTORE funds to stimulate the local economy as intended with the creation of 50 jobs for one year, a boost in municipal fuel taxes and local transportation needs.

Commissioner Phil McCroan noted last month, “We have our own sand,” referring to the county’s sand source which is also on the north end of the county.

“There are a lot of postives about (using an inland sand source),” said Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County.

Yeager said last week that county work crews, in moving sufficient material to cap and close Five Points Landfill, dug down to a similar quality of sand as the Taunton’s.

He said county staff has sent the sand for testing as to viability as a source for beach sand.

Taunton contended the sand on the family’s site is suitable for use on the beach.

The timeline for the restoration project, Yeager said, will be tweaked again, but he said staff was hopeful to stick as close to the timeline at bidding as possible.

Under the bid specs, the timeline was to be complete at the end of May 2018.

Yeager noted that had a bid been accepted, the contractor would have needed 60-120 days to stage equipment for the job.

“We are going to try to stay to our original timeline,” Yeager said, “which would be sand on the beach by spring into summer.”

Hardman said Tuesday it was important for folks on the peninsula to understand the project remains a priority; how it will be completed is the question.

“Time is critical,” Hardman said. “We’ve got to get sand on the beach, particularly in the hot spots.

“Sand loss on the Cape is dramatic. It’s tragic for those in danger of losing homes and tragic for the county.”

Hardman said 20-25 homes are currently vulnerable and said after conversations with the county’s state legislative leaders, a request has been submitted to receive a $3 million state appropriation to protect State 30E, the lone road to the north end of St. Joseph Peninsula.

The first $1 million would be used to place sand in front of the Stump Hole rock revetment with another $2 million to construct an underwater offshore structure to alter the current flows along the peninsula.

The current scope of the beach restoration project is for the placement of 1.156 million cubic yards of sand obtained from a borrow area offshore of St. Joseph Peninsula.

The sand will be used to restore 5.18 miles of beach.

The work will be done in two major segments, 2.10 miles from Rish Park to the peninsula state park, and 3.08 miles from the Stump Hole to Rish Park.

The two state parks on the peninsula are not participating in the project.

Commissioner Ward McDaniel said given the timeline after the rejection of bids and the upcoming turtle season, it is possible the project may have to be completed in phases.