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Beach protection projects move ahead

Tim Croft

Long-sought projects to bolster protection of the Cape and peninsula beaches are coming into view.

A project to place emergency sand berms on all three beaches, including St. Joe Beach, should be ready to go out for bid by fall, said Warren Yeager, Assistant County Administrator.

Meanwhile, work should begin next month on “vegetative islands” along the southern portion of Cape San Blas, Yeager said.

The berm project has been pursued by the Board of County Commissioners since before Hurricane Michael.

At the time of planning for a beach restoration project, engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection were examining offshore structures to alter the currents along St. Joseph Peninsula, considered the fastest-eroding shoreline in the state.

But after Michael scooped up considerable beach, punching a hole in Eagle Harbor in the peninsula state park, county officials have urged state assistance on constructing emergency berms.

Emergency berms were up in Mexico Beach in a matter of months.

The hiccup, Yeager said, was receiving a formal letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approving the berms as a portion of the construction would be within a zone protected under the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA).

That letter has finally arrived, Yeager said.

“They should be ready to bid (in the fall),” Yeager said.

The “vegetative island” project is being funded by a $5 million grant, matched by state grant dollars the county had already received, to build islands of sand along the southern portion of the recently completed beach restoration project.

In turn, that sand would be planted with sea oats and similar vegetation to promote protection of the beach and dune systems.

“The project will also put about 75,000 cubic yards of sand into the system,” Yeager said.

To forward both projects, commissioners on Tuesday also approved the low and best bid on the contract to excavate sand from the county borrow pit in Honeyville.

The sand would go toward the two projects almost exclusively, Yeager indicated.

County 386

The project is more than two years overdue but commissioners finally awarded to GAC Contractors the contract for resurfacing and widening County 386 from U.S. 98 to Industrial Road.

At $9.2 million, it is one of the largest contracts in the state under the Small County Outreach Program (SCOP), Administrator Michael Hammond said.

The project was re-bid after questions concerning how bids were submitted and the scope of the project bid.

“It was clear we were not on the same page,” Hammond said.

That was resolved, he added, by conducting a pre-bid conference with interested contractors.

Southeastern Engineering received the engineering inspection portion of the project.

Letters for dollars

Between a special meeting last week and Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting, commissioners approved making two formal requests.

Under the guidelines of the federal CARES Act to address the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county is entitled to roughly $785,000, with the two cities receiving a cut of those dollars.

Commissioners requested staff formally write Gov. Ron DeSantis to release the county’s “fair share.”

Commissioners also approved a letter to the board of Triumph Gulf Coast requesting Triumph disburse the county’s legislatively-pledged portion of funds for this fiscal year, about $3.2 million, directly to the county.

Commissioners have stated a desire to act immediately to assist small businesses suffering in the county through a program of loans or grants.

Triumph staff raised the issue as an option as the Triumph board considered how to react to the pandemic, but there has been no further discussion.

Triumph has a planned phone conference meeting in mid-June.