The scene that greeted tourists and residents of St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille was unusual to say the least. There were no tourists sunning themselves, no residents walking or running the beaches. Swimmers and surfers were nowhere to be seen. A few people were having breakfast at the beach concession stand, but the attention was on the workers in hard hats, the pipeline and the tape strung across the walkways, not the water.
Along the beach stretched a series of large diameter pipes hooked together for the purpose of re-nourishing the beach with sand that had been shifted during the four hurricanes that hit Florida in a short period of time. The work at Pass-a-Grille Beach was a continuation of the re-nourishment project started in Treasure Island and Upham Beach earlier in the season. The funding for the work is part of a $130 million federal plan to replenish all of Florida’s battered beaches, including Pinellas County’s 35 miles. Pinellas County received about $3 million.
Fortunately, because the equipment was already in place after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan, the beach communities were able to save a million-dollar set-up fee. The re-nourishment project replaced 30 ft. (9.1 m) of beach at Treasure Island, almost 200 ft. (61 m) of sand at Upham Beach, and when complete will have replenished 80 ft. (24.4) at Pass-a-Grille.
The process is essentially a simple one. Sand is dredged from the channel and pumped and dumped back onto the beach. The hydraulic dredge, in this case The Charleston, is stationed about 400 yds. off-shore attached to a pipeline that is approximately 2 mi. (3.2 km) in length. A pipe is lowered into the sand equipped with a cutter head that spins through the sand. A pump on the ship sucks the sand into the pipe as the dredge moves, dragging the head across the sand. The mixture, which is 80 percent sand and 20 percent water, is forced through the pipeline by three pumps on board the dredge. The sand and water are sprayed onto the beach as layer upon layer is added until it reaches the desired height and depth. Workers spread and smooth out the sand on shore. Rough weather can delay the process because choppy water conditions can damage the dredging equipment.
“We have been down here since July 14 and have completed Upham Beach and Treasure Island. Here at Pass-a-Grille, the dredge is pumping the material through two miles of pipeline,” said Isaiah Allston Jr., foreman of this project.
“We had rough weather with high winds, which put us back a little, but we expect to be completed soon.” There are approximately 40 workers on the job.
“Math and global positioning systems [GPS], computer programs and calibrations all play a role in rebuilding a beach,” said field engineer Matt Dryden, of Norfolk Dredging, the Virginia based company that is contracted for the multi-million dollar projects.
A GPS unit sends a signal to a satellite, which then provides the latitude, longitude and elevation of the beach. Following a drawing based on what the shoreline should look like; a computer program reconciles what part of the beach exists now with what it should look like. Engineers calculate the volume of sand needed.