The final hurdle appears to be cleared to allow a long-awaited beach restoration project to begin next month.
Warren Yeager, the county’s executive director of the Economic Development Coalition, said last week that the U.S. Treasury had approved the county’s amended spending plan for the county’s direct allocation of RESTORE funding.
With that plan approved, a check for roughly $2.8 million, representing the county’s first-year funding under the RESTORE Act, should be received this month.
“We think we will be ready for August 1,” Yeager said.
That $2.8 million is the last significant chunk of funding the project needed to proceed.
Eligible voters approved three Municipal Services Taxing Units (MSTUs) two years ago to provide some $4 million.
The Gulf County Tourist Development Council is chipping in some beach restoration funding and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is paying just over a third of the project’s cost.
But the RESTORE Act funds, which the county first filed for early last year only to have to amend the multi-year spending plan to reflect changes in the restoration project, were essential.
The amended plan’s public comment period ended in March.
The Board of County Commissioners in January approved a bid for the restoration project, which will now focus solely on beaches between the Stump Hole rock revetments to the southern boundary of Billy Joe Rish Park.
Manson Construction, based in Washington State, will perform the work.
Manson’s bid provided the most sand for the county’s budgeted $10.2 million in total funding for the restoration project.
The sand, the county’s consulting engineer Michael Dombrowski said, will cover the proposed boundaries of the project, from Stump Hole to Rish Park.
In addition, according to Dombrowski, Manson will use a large hopper to dredge the sand from an offshore borrow area and is projecting to complete the work and be off the beach within 45 days of the start date.
That will slash the construction timeline by nearly 80 days and reduces costs.
The work will fall directly in the middle of sea turtle season, as the season is transitioning from nesting to hatchlings emerging.
Jessica Swindall with the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol, said her group has been relocating turtles since the first nests were discovered in May.
Manson was one of two bidders on the project, which was re-bid late last year after the BOCC rejected an initial round of bids.
Those initial bids came in some 40 percent over the county’s budget.
In re-bidding, the county “reverse-bid” the project, requiring contractors to detail how much sand the county could purchase and place on the beach for the $10.2 million.
Manson’s bid was 705,882 cubic yards; Great Lakes Dredge’s bid less than half that amount.
Dombrowski said the county realized savings by re-bidding the project.
With the elimination of some surveying, oversight and inspection services due to the shorter timeframe for the project, the county saved right at $1 million, he said.
The unit cost per cubic yard of sand of $1.50 was also lower.
Had the county accepted the low bidder on the first round of bids last year, which was Great Lakes, it would have received 510,000 cubic yards of sand, based on per unit cost in the bid and the county’s available funds, Dombrowski said.
“There was a substantial cost savings by doing this method,” Dombrowski said. “We gained 200,000 cubic yards.”
The hope is that sand placed on the southern end of the six-mile length of the peninsula moves, or accretes, north.
That was the case in the original restoration project of a decade ago, with a significant amount of sand, in the hundreds of thousands of cubic yards, moving south to north.
Similar accretion is the hope in the future.
Some residents to the north of Billy Joe Rish Park have complained that while they were taxed as all peninsula property owners, they will not immediately receive sand as originally pledged.
No one, however, argues with the need to get sand on the beach as soon as possible; structures are being threatened, as Dombrowski predicted two years ago.
The restoration is roughly one year behind the county's most optimistic timeline.
“We need to get sand out there,” said Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County.