At this point it’s akin to shooting darts blindfolded to announce a start date, month even, for a long-sought, and long-discussed beach restoration project.
After all, the last time this newspaper published a headline announcing a start to the project was Oct. 4, when it was announced the project would begin the following Monday, Oct. 8.
No need to detail what that week brought instead of a beach restoration project, which was rendered more urgent by that week’s arrival of Hurricane Michael.
But the stars have seemed to align and the project is now slated to begin in August.
“That is the date the contractor has given us as when they can be back,” said Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager. “It could be a bit earlier, late July when they are staging.
“But we are looking at August to start the project.”
With the contractor, Manson Contractors, in the fold, other obstacles the project has had to hurdle in nearly two-plus years of bidding, raising funds and the like have also fallen by the wayside.
The largest portion of the local funding piece, $2.9 million in RESTORE Act funding, is finally in the bank.
That money was not received from the U.S. Treasury until more than two years had passed from the initial grant application to receive the county’s first year allocation in RESTORE Act funding.
This was a project first firmed in general scope and funding parameters in 2017, nearly two years after the county’s consulting coastal engineer predicted, correctly, that structures would begin to be compromised if sand wasn’t on the beach in two years.
In addition to the funding put in place, the required state and federal permitting is complete and the county continued its work under the permits last week in contracting out shorebird surveys required before, during and after the project.
The greatest unknown is the whether the scope will grow beyond the county’s current projections; if the scope remains the same, the project would be completed in 45 days.
“We are going to get at least as far as Billy Joe Rish Park,” Yeager said.
After two rounds of bidding and engineering scope to match the budget, the area of the beach to receive new sand extends between Billy Joe Rish Park and the Scallop Cove and the Stump Hole rock revetment.
That southern end had lost hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand in the decade since the last restoration project in 2008-2009, and that was before Hurricane Michael.
“Right now it is about a $13 million project,” Yeager said, accounting for the 35 percent grant funding coming from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
But the state has expressed interest in participating more fully in the project with a decision not yet finalized.
Yeager said the DEP might have interest in providing new sand to the beach in front of Billy Joe Rish Park and has yet to make a decision on what to do about the breach of the beach near Eagle Harbor in T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
The breach, at one time nearly a quarter of a mile across and 20 feet deep and navigable by boat, has significantly filled in.
Even the shallowest draft boat can no longer navigate clean passage.
However, during a town hall meeting earlier this year there was considerable local support for leaving Mother Nature alone and leaving the breach alone.
Yeager said the state was still discussing a decision on the breach; a decision to fill it would significantly increase the amount of sand needed for the restoration project.
However, as Yeager noted, the sand along the peninsula beaches is naturally accreting to the north, to the beaches north of Billy Joe Rish Park and the state park beyond.
And as was the mission last summer for the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol, when nesting season begins next month patrol volunteers will be working to relocate nests to north of Billy Joe Rish Park.
Last year volunteers relocated 137 nests, producing roughly 11,000 hatchlings.
“We have already discussed what we are going to do and identified the spots we have cherry-picked for relocating the nests,” said Jessica Swindall, volunteer coordinator for the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol.