Beach restoration could be more than nine months away should be the Board of County Commissioners follow a path recommended by the board’s coastal engineer.

Beach restoration could be more than nine months away should be the Board of County Commissioners follow a path recommended by the board’s coastal engineer.

During its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, the board heard from Michael Dombrowski in the wake the decision last month to reject bids on a restoration project.

Those bids arrived at least 40 percent above the dollars the county has in the bank for the project, approximately $10.4 million.

All of the five major options presented to commissioners arrived with advantages and disadvantages in remedying a dilemma that culminated a two-plus year process to bid the project.

That bid, Dombrowski said, reflected changes in the private sector since estimates were made last year, especially increases in fuel prices, increases in the number of coastal projects (there are 60 such projects currently in Florida), and the increase in impacts from a busy hurricane season.

“It is a very complex issue,” Dombrowski said. “It’s a lot of money. Erosion control and beach restoration is expensive.”

The most unpalatable option, by far, for commissioners was to increase funding for the project, which Dombrowski said could be accomplished under the current grant award from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The FDEP portion, representing 35 percent of the overall cost, could be increased by $1.22 million in an effort to reach $14 million, the estimated cost of the project as proposed and the cap on the grant.

However, that would require an additional $2.23 million in local match dollars.

“I know the people of Gulf County don’t want to hear about that,” said Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr.

County administrator Don Butler noted that the county “artificially” capped the local revenue for the project when it set $4 million as the target for collection of municipal services taxes paid by coastal property owners.

He also said the county could increase the DEP match to 50 percent of the project if additional and strategic public access to the beaches and water could be secured.

The county has looked at several parcels to increase public access but has been foiled in attempts to secure property for a variety of factors.

Another option is to re-bid the project or to identify additional, and closer, offshore sand borrow sites.

As currently proposed, the project would entail the dredging of some 1.1 million cubic yards of sand from a borrow area off the northern end of St. Joseph Peninsula.

Neither of those options, Dombrowski said, were likely to be solutions; offshore, he added, there is simply not additional sand close enough to be viable and cost-effective for placement on peninsula beaches.

The two most viable options, reflecting the discussion Tuesday, were using the Cape Shoals area south of the Stump Hole or an inland borrow source on county-owned property in Honeyville.

Dombrowski said the Cape Shoals area was dynamic and would be replenished over time by sand accreting from the north as well as from Indian Pass.

That, he suggested, could make it ideal not only in the short-term but for a long-term solution for a beach restoration sand source.

Additionally, the site would be 1.8 miles from the southern end of the project area, the Stump Hole, and the sand could be transported by pipe or truck to the project area within the county’s cost constraints.

“This would get the sand to the southern end where it is needed most,” Dombrowski said.

However, it would require permission or easement from Eglin Air Force base, which owns property in the area (commissioners will begin a dialogue), and could mean a phased approach to the project.

Easily, the biggest downside is that given the geo-technical work and permitting required, as well the subsequent bidding for a contractor, the project would likely not begin until November 2018 at the earliest.

“The best option at this time on a long-term basis is the Cape Shoals area,” Dombrowski said.

The inland borrow area, in Honeyville, would produce quality beach sand, as it is coarser granually it would likely last longer and reduce the volume needed, after digging down roughly 24-28 feet, Dombrowski said.

The sand would be 32-38 miles away from the beaches, but could be trucked (more than 15,000 trips) or barged down the Intracoastal, Dombrowski said, characterizing either option as viable.

“I feel confident we will use that sand,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel.

The inland source could be used to address “hot spots” along the project area while permitting for the Cape Shoals area is secured.

“Some people don’t have another nine months,” Commissioner Phil McCroan said, adding that if the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA) designation was not applied to the area federal money, some $15 million after Hurricane Gustav in 2009 alone, would be available.

“If not for CBRA, we would not even be here today,” McCroan said, noting the county’s continuing effort to lift the designation for some 900-plus coastal acres.

Commissioners approved simple steps in the immediate, approving staff to investigate selling the top soil from the borrow area and explore contracting for future excavation.

A long-term solution, Dombrowski said, would likely be two-fold.

One would be establishing a long-term funding source for beach maintenance and restoration.

He noted that in other areas of the state where he works, MSTUs are left in place to fund projects as they are needed.

The other, one the county has been working on for several years, is constructing coastal underwater structures to alter the current flows and erosion rates in the highest-eroding areas of the peninsula.

That would be on the south end, at the Stump Hole.

Such a structure could reduce erosion in that area by as much as 25-30 percent, Dombrowski said.

That would extend the time between which beach restoration work would be needed as well as reducing the scope and costs of such future projects.