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County awarded grant funds for peninsula restoration

Tim Croft

County efforts to stem the rate of erosion on St. Joseph Peninsula received a recent boost via nearly $4 million in grant dollars.

The National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF) in partnership with NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management announced a series of “living shoreline” grants nationwide from the Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund.

Among those was a $3.7 million grant to the Board of County Commissioners to “restore three miles of shoreline on St. Joseph Peninsula through sand and vegetation restoration.”

“This is a huge deal for the peninsula,” said Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager.

Yeager said the project will include the building of “vegetation islands” at strategic spots along the peninsula to enhance dune structures and slow erosion, particularly on the south end of the peninsula near the Stump Hole rock revetment.

Yeager said the county’s consulting coastal engineer, Michael Dombrowski, had designed the project so the vegetative islands would be located at erosion “hot spots” and allow for more sand to be retained in the southern end of the peninsula.

Last fall, the county completed a beach restoration project which focused largely on the southern half of the peninsula.

“The project will provide coastal resilience by increasing the stability and longevity of the beach sand and encouraging additional dune growth through trapping wind-blown sand, increasing storm protection, and promoting wildlife protection and increasing habitat,” read a release from NFWF.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio lauded the grant awards in Florida, which included grants to Bay, Franklin and Okaloosa counties.

“Living shorelines, such as reefs, sand dunes, and coastal marshland are vital for slowing the kinetic energy of large waves and storm surge,” Rubio said in a statement. “This ‘natural infrastructure’ helps to protect Florida’s communities and man-made infrastructure from coastal flooding impacts.

“These funds will help restore living shorelines in communities that were impacted by Hurricane Michael, so that Florida’s coastline is able to withstand the effects of future tropical cyclones and coastal flooding events.”

The $3.7 million award to the county comes with a $1.7 million match, for a total $5 million project.

Yeager said he believed the county would earmark the match from other grant funding already received for just such purposes.

The NFWF release detailed that Hurricanes Michael and Florence, Typhoon Yutu, and the coastal wildfires of 2018 caused more than $50 billion in damage and severely degraded a range of wildlife habitats.

Congress provided funding through an emergency supplemental appropriations bill to support natural and nature-based infrastructure that will help impacted communities and wildlife recover and be better prepared for future events.

That funding was to be administered through a partnership ship between NFWF and NOAA and NFWF’s Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund was launched two months later, in August 2019.

The 27 projects that received grant funding addressed two priorities: 1) building coastal resilience through restoration and enhancement; and 2) addressing design and engineering barriers to coastal resilience, the release stated.

The projects received more than $43 million in grant funding, which has been further leveraged by more than $54.7 million from other sources to generate a total conservation impact of nearly $98 million, according to the release.