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Shoreline Project Going Well, But Challenges Make It … No ’Day at the Beach’

Tue August 10, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Carl Thiemann

Crews on a $10 million, 6 mi. (9.7 km) Ranger Construction job were spending a lot of time at the beach earlier this year, but they weren’t surfing the waves or lounging in the sun.

Instead, they were navigating around high tides, dealing with tight material specs and observing strict environmental protocols as they hauled in and spread 317,000 cu. yds. (242,364 cu m) of sand — more than 17,600 truckloads — to rebuild the dune and re-nourish the beach along a stretch of the Atlantic in Indian River County, Fla.

An additional 326,000 cu. yds. (249,245 cu m) of sand is scheduled to be placed during the contract’s second phase near the end of the year, farther north within the boundaries of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

Shoring Up Nature

The new sand is expected to withstand erosion for six or more years, protecting beachfront properties and the vital tax base they represent, while preserving one of the western hemisphere’s most active sea turtle nesting areas.

Work has been temporarily halted to accommodate the summer nesting season, when loggerheads, leatherbacks and green turtles clamber up the beach to dig nests and lay their eggs before returning to the sea, followed later by their hatchlings. Because the species are either threatened or endangered, restoring the beach is a lifeline for their survival.

Local Stimulus Effect

The project also is spreading around more than just sand. Beach re-nourishment typically involves offshore dredging, with the recovered sand pumped back onto the beach, which an out-of-state contractor did recently in other sections.

This time, county officials wanted to shore up the local economy while replacing the ravaged beachfront, so they accepted Ranger’s proposal to haul sand from an upland pit. Spreading the economic boost further, Ranger agreed not to use its own substantial fleet, but to contract with area trucking and equipment rental firms.

Strict Sand Specs

Because of the huge amount of upland sand involved, the contract called for very strict size and content specifications. The material had to be processed to filter out fine particles that would blow or wash away, as well as larger shell rock or gravel pieces that would make it too coarse. After all, the new sand had to double as a marine maternity ward.

The focus on quality paid off. Even before nesting season began May 1, early arriving turtles gave the restored section “two flippers up,” digging nests and laying eggs under the cover of night. In the mornings, the new nests were roped off and work continued safely around them.

Getting enough high-quality sand to keep up with production was difficult, so an extension of seven days was received for phase one completion.

There were also other challenges, because the earthwork was more involved than most roadway or site development jobs. Each day more than 200 truckloads of sand were dumped at a crossover, loaded by excavator onto off-road trucks, hauled down the beach, dumped per the engineering plans, then spread by dozers up to and into the surf, building up the shoreline and increasing the width of the beach.

Tidal Forces at Work

As expected, working next to the ocean affected production. High tides made the eroded beachfront even narrower, limiting access for haul trucks bringing in sand. Once it was placed, the material was subject to shifting, especially during rough overnight seas, requiring some rework the next day to get it back to template.

Rebuilding the dune was another meticulous process. It involved placing and shaping a sand berm cresting more than 20-ft. (6.1 m) high and stretching for miles. The contract also called for planting vegetation on the restored dune — almost 300,000 sea grass and sea oat plants — to help protect it from high winds and storm surges.

There were strict environmental regulations to comply with as well, and every so often a bogged down haul truck needed a dozer to rumble over and pull it out.

Despite the job’s difficulties, county officials and area property owners were pleased with results on phase one. After turtle season, workers will head back to the beach once again — minus their surfboards or lounge chairs — to haul in and place several more miles of sand for phase two.

This story was republished with permission from VanGuard Magazine, 1st/2nd Quarter 2010 Issue.

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