When Florida’s long stretch of coastline suffered a one-two-three punch from a combination of hurricanes this past summer, the state swung into action.
“As soon as the storms made landfall we had survey teams out looking at the damage, assessing what we needed to do,” reported Paden Woodruff, environmental administrator of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
And the work is far from over.
“There’s activity all over the state with many different components. We have projects under way that are using large scale dredging equipment,” Woodruff said.
Beach nourishment is performed by a dredge at an offshore location piping sand onto the beach. A slurry of sand and water exits the pipe on the beach.
Then, bulldozers move the new sand around the beach until the beach matches the design profile.
“This is a preferred method to add sand,” Woodruff said. “It provides a significant level of storm protection benefits for upland properties with the least impact to the coastal system. Importantly, it quickly restores shorebird and marine turtle habitat.”
In addition to restoring the shorelines, crews will be busy replacing sand dunes.
“Some of the projects are designed to assist with the natural recovery by placing material back into the system, a kind of stop-gap measure prior to the next hurricane season,” Woodruff said. “We’ve a lot of work we’re trying to accomplish before a couple of different deadlines.”
He said one of the important deadlines is the marine turtle nesting season, which varies anywhere from the middle of March to the end of April at a number of locations around the state.
“This is particularly critical in the southeast part of Florida,” he said. “A major effort is needed to get this done, but we plan on being successful.”
The turtles aren’t his only concern. There’s also the much-needed planting of salt-tolerant vegetation, such as certain grasses and sea grapes.
“There are different planting seasons — this spring, next fall and spring 2006. Typically, the plantings are done in conjunction with sand fencing work,” he said.
Fencing, which helps accumulate sand and keep it in position, is, “just one of the many pieces that make up the puzzle of a healthy, viable beach.”
Beach erosion ravages the resources that draw visitors and residents alike. Currently, approximately 299 of the state’s 825 mi. of sandy beaches are experiencing what environmental officials call “critical erosion.”
One of the areas hardest hit was the state’s Panhandle. Buddy Persons, vice president of DRC Inc. explained how his company is getting Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key Beach back into shape.
“We’re recovering all the sand from roads and elsewhere that was displaced by the hurricane. We’re also screening the sand with power screens to remove dangerous debris. We’re building back emergency berms along all 20 miles of beach.”
DRC currently has approximately 140 pieces of equipment working six days a week, 10 to 12 hours per day.
Persons said they’re using a lot of John Deere and Caterpillar front-end loaders, 4- to 6-yd. buckets and excavators.
“Some areas of the public beaches are already open, and all should be open in May,” Persons said.
Martin County, which purportedly only experiences hurricanes approximately once in every 50 to 70 years, was caught in the middle of a bullseye twice in 2004. Two storms hit Martin County, located directly above Palm Beach, at almost the exact location within weeks of each other. In particular, Jensen Beach and its noted turtle nesting areas are undergoing needed restorations.
According to Phil Sanders, project manager of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s northeast section, Indian River and surrounding counties are using trucks to haul beach fill material from nearby inland sand mines and pits.
“Companies that provide sand for cement mixing will supply beach-quality sand. With the offshore dredging due to be finished around May 1, the beaches should be able to withstand another storm season,” Sanders said.
The restoration projects, some not yet begun, are set for completion within 18 months.
The state’s share of all the funding is $68.4 million. There also is the Federal Corps of Engineers money and FEMA money — all totaling hundreds of millions of dollars — necessary expenditures when considering the environmental and economic benefits these combined efforts provide to the attraction of the Sunshine State.