The process begins again

The do-over on beach restoration began Tuesday.

The Board of County Commissioners listened to a presentation from its coastal engineer during an early workshop and during a later meeting approved his recommendations on the next steps for beach restoration.

In short strokes, those moves will be to narrow the primary focus of the project to the southern end of the original scope, from the Stump Hole rock revetment to the boundary of Billy Joe Rish State Park and re-bid.

That rebid is being characterized as a “reverse bid” in that contractors will understand up front that the county has $10,5 million for the project; what volume of sand will that bring to the beaches of St. Joseph Peninsula?

“We have a set amount of money,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan. “We are basically reverse-bidding and going as far as we can get.”

The timeline, and timelines have been the most fluid part of this project for more than two years, would have the tweaked project bid by March or April.

The goal would be to award the project in May and for the project to be completed by November, maybe December at the latest, said coastal engineer Michael Dombrowski.

In addition, the recommendation was to move the Cape Shoals development, the closest to the water along the project’s length and in part within the dune structure, landward.

In addition, the county will have to underwrite updated surveys, which will bring additional refinement of detail to the project, as well as re-bidding costs.

The county is effectively re-starting a process initiated more than two years ago and which ended late last year with the BOCC rejecting all bids for restoration after they came in at least 40 percent over budget.

The low bid came in just over $17 million, more than $6 million more than the county has in hand for the project.

In a sense, the results from the original restoration project of nearly a decade ago are wildly divergent based on direction.

An the northern portion of the original project, from Billy Joe Rish Park north to T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, the beaches are growing and healthy.

While more than 1.5 million cubic yards of sand has been lost on the southern section, Stump Hole to Rish Park, the section from Rish Park to Peninsula Park has gained nearly 300,000 cubic yards.

On the southern end, some structures are within 75 feet of the water and the beach is narrow and low, providing minimal storm protection, Dombrowski noted.

To the north, however, structures are least 200 feet from the water and the beach is wide and high, providing the level of storm protection which would be expected.

The northern section of the beach is gaining 1 to 2 feet per year, Dombrowski said.

“This area really does not need beach restoration,” Dombrowski said. “It is performing as designed.”

That accretion also provides room to tailor restoration of the peninsula’s southern section as restoration of a “feeder beach” that will benefit the peninsula to the north, which provides some flexibility in designing and constructing the project.

For example, the timeline for the project would drop from 120 days to 75 days, Dombrowski said.

In addition, the county can approach “hot spots” in the northern section using trucks to haul sand to the beach, far less expensive and efficient for maintaining the area.

Beyond the general conditions of the peninsula’s sections, Dombrowski also noted the importance of the southern section in protecting the lone hurricane evacuation route, the lone land link of any kind, State 30E, on the southern end.

That segment of road has been the subject of several attempts by local officials and the county’s state legislative delegation to secure additional funding, through the Florida Department of Transportation, for the restoration project.

Dr. Pat Hardman of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County said the $3 million is still alive in the current legislative session, though the FDOT’s stance is that the agency would not participate in any restoration until such time as the Gulf waters forced the issue by breaking through the roadway.

Hardman said commissioners should consider phases for the project in the event that $3 million is in the final state budget.

The county is seeking to restore what was lost from a restoration project, costing more than $21 million, completed in 2009.

“The design life on that project was five to six years,” Dombrowski said. “We have pushed it back and back and that is why we are in this condition.”

Coastal taxpayers have levied a property tax on themselves and with additional funds from the Tourist Development Council and first-year RESTORE Act funds, the local contribution is $6.77 million.

“I want to thank the people out on the cape for their patience,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel. “Hopefully we can get this thing moving.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is slated to provide grant funding of $3.73 million.

The county is currently examining the potential of acquiring a coastal piece of property to increase public access to the beach which could translate into additional funding, $225,000, from the FDEP.

The deal will not be brokered, said deputy county administrator Michael Hammond unless the land does bring some additional dollars to the restoration project.