The Board of County Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved moving ahead with the long-sought beach restoration project.

How much of the roughly six-mile original project, or three-mile amended project, will be completed won’t be known until the first grain of sand is tossed on the beach.

Commissioners faced a deadline, the reason for the Monday afternoon special meeting.

Monday was the last day the county could provide a notice to proceed on the project to dredge contractor Manson before the contractor would move its operations to the Eastern seaboard, said Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager.

The project would likely have to wait until well into 2019, Yeager said.

“We have to make a decision or lose the contractor,” Yeager said.

The primary obstacle remained the $2.8 million in RESTORE Act funds held up at the U.S. Treasury over the question of whether using sand to restore the southern end of peninsula beaches was a proper exemption to rules under the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA).

Until last week, that answer appeared to be no, or at least no definitive answer was forthcoming when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weighed in, or more factually, did not render an opinion, Yeager said.

However, county officials last week received a phone call from Treasury indicating that U.S. Fish and Wildlife had agreed with Treasury’s opinion that the project was an exemption from CBRA.

That rolled that obstacle away but the county remains without a check in the bank.

The new Catch-22 in a process that has had plenty of them over the past two-plus years, is the timing of that check.

With the notice to proceed, Manson indicated it would need two to three weeks to mobilize, Yeager said.

However, if Manson is ready and sand hits the beach before the RESTORE funds are issued by Treasury, Treasury has indicated it will not approve the grant funding to participate in the restoration project.

Since the first sand will be going on the south end, near the Stump Hole rock revetment, the project would soon move out of the area that was approved for spending the RESTORE funds.

So, whether or not a check is issued in the next two or three weeks will determine whether the project is a $6.4 million or $10.1 million project (the difference between the $2.8 million plus 35 percent match dollars from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection).

And, whether the check is in the bank or not will determine whether the project ends roughly at the area of beach just north of Scallop Cove or continues to the boundary of Billy Joe Rish Park.

“Before we start pumping sand we hope we will get approval for the $2.8 million,” Yeager said, recommending commissioners approve a notice to proceed with the hope the project will require a change-order before sand is pumped.

Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County, said the project should be a priority regardless of scope.

It was more than two years ago that consulting engineer Michael Dombrowski told commissioners unless sand was on the beach sometime last year, structures would be imperiled.

The prediction has become reality in some sections of the peninsula.

“If we don’t move forward we are going to lose homes and lose sand,” Hardman said, noting the most damaging storms in recent years have often come during winter months.

“Anything we can put out there will help the system. Help us get the best we can get.”

Yeager also noted that from the beginning, the belief was that any nourishment of southern beaches would in the long-term benefit more the northern peninsula beaches.

Since a 2008-2009 restoration project, the southern end has seen significant erosion with northern beaches accreting into the federally-authorized shipping channel.


Flood maps

The BOCC will hold an 8 a.m. ET workshop prior to Tuesday’s 9 a.m. ET regular meeting to discuss preliminary flood maps.

Monday commissioners heard the broad strokes of a difference of opinion between county staff and the Northwest Florida Water Management District concerning preliminary flood maps.

County staff urged commissioners to move forward with the data that was available, much of which dates to 2007, in order to bring relief to property owners paying for flood insurance they likely should not be required to pay.

The water management district’s position is that now that 2017 data is available, there is path forward to alleviate the burden for those paying for flood insurance when they should not while also reducing the number of properties being moved into flood zones.

Bo Spring, a member of the water management district’s board, said the issue is funding and the agency, which updated data last year at the behest of the county and with agency funding, indicated it could likely secure the dollars.

Either way the wait for any finalizing of the maps was at least 18 months away, again a point of some dispute, and the additional few months needed to model the updated data would ensure fairness in how people would be impacted.

No matter how many might be brought relief, Spring noted, there would be a significant number negatively impacted.