Pensacola Beach has beach erosion, too!

2016 Navarre Beach Renourishment Project and the 2006 Navarre Beach Restoration Project. And updates/issues about beach storm surge sand erosion, dune vegetation, sea turtle/shorebird nesting and other.
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Kenny Wilder
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Pensacola News Journal
June 1, 2009

Flouting Nature

Escambia seeks funds to fight sand erosion at Pensacola Beach

Kimberly Blair

Pensacola Beach is looking for sand, again.

Last August, when Hurricane Gustav moved through the Gulf to Louisiana, an estimated 559,000 cubic yards of sand — or 38,312 dump-truck loads — were washed from the barrier island.

A chunk of that sand was stripped from Park East, just east of Portofino Resort, resulting in the tents and canopies of roughly 11,000 beachgoers being washed away during a typical — albeit strong — summer thunderstorm over Memorial Day weekend.

"The beach is not as wide as it was before Gustav," said Matt Mooneyham, Santa Rosa Island Authority director of development services.

To restore the beach, Escambia County is applying for a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster grant to help pay the cost of restoring to pre-Gustav levels the sand at Park East as well as along the 8.2 miles of Pensacola Beach.

The cost of the project is estimated at $10.1 million, Mooneyham said. The FEMA grant would pay 75 percent of that cost, or an amount the agency agrees to pay. The state, county and Santa Rosa Island Authority would pay the other 25 percent.

"It's not a done deal yet," Mooneyham said. "But we feel confident it will be in a short amount of time."

Once the money is in hand, it could be another year before sand starts pumping back onto Pensacola Beach because of permitting and project planning, he said.

Meanwhile, erosion continues naturally, with about 70,000 cubic yards migrating west each year and more storms, even minimal ones, worsening the problem.

Sand shortage

Keeping sand levels up on the beach has been something of a losing battle.

The beach has less sand now than before the major beach renourishment project in 2002-03, said Timothy Day, Escambia County environmental programs manager for development services.

And all of the 4.2 million cubic yards of sand that was pumped onto the beach in 2003, at a cost of $14.7 million, has washed away because of natural erosion as well as tropical storms, he said.

Day, who's in charge of applying for the disaster aid, said replacing sand on Pensacola Beach is vital to tourism.

"It's an investment in tourism," he said. "We need to maintain the beaches in order to protect the public infrastructure and minimize loss."

The beach has a history of replacing what Mother Nature takes away.

Since September 2004, the beach twice has been renourished to replace sand lost during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and hurricanes Dennis and Katrina in 2005.

The post-Ivan renourishment, however, was cut short because of the 2005 storms.

The last renourishment project was completed in February 2006 when 3.17 million cubic yards of sand — roughly the amount lost during the 2004-05 storms — were pumped back on the beach at a cost of $14.1 million.

Without a major storm, a typical beach renourishment project should have a 10- to 15-year lifespan, Day said.

"When we have a large storm, we see the large movement of sand," he said.

Sugar sand

The crystal-white sand is why people come to Pensacola Beach, said Todd Arnold of Pensacola.

"I've been here 14 years, and I'm all too familiar with what a hurricane can do," said Arnold, who vacationed on Pensacola Beach during the Memorial Day weekend. "People want to live out there, but they don't understand it's a barrier island in motion."

He said residential building should be limited. But he does support beach renourishment, especially after witnessing how far the surge washed over the beach behind the house he vacationed in near Avenida 17.

"The storm surge came up higher than normal, a good 25 yards from the houses," he said.

Dave Greenwood, water safety supervisor, said truck and ATV patrols are more difficult on narrower beaches.

"From a public safety standpoint, it is great to have access with our vehicles. They drive around and save lives," he said of the six trucks and three ATVs that lifeguards use to patrol beaches.

"We can't get too close to the shoreline, and we can't get near people, which makes it challenging to patrol."

Gulf Breeze resident and environmentalist Enid Sisskin says barrier islands are meant to drift, and renourishment only delays the inevitable. Instead, people should learn to live with the shifting shores, she said.

"These are processes that have been going on millions of year, and we can only delay some of this process," she said.

"Renourishment is an endless process. It's expensive. It will have to be done again, and again and again. How long are we going to be willing to pay for it?"

Renourishment will continue as long as there is political will to do so, Day said.

"And as long as people live out there, the beach will require some kind of maintenance," he said. "My hope is we'll have some break from the storms."

Beach renourishment timeline

4.2 million cubic yards of sand was pumped on 8.2 miles of Pensacola Beach at a cost of $14.7 million.

September 2004 Hurricane Ivan:
lost 3.2 million cubic yards of sand.

Began to replace $2.3 million cubic yards lost in Ivan.
Hurricane Dennis interrupted the project in July.
July 2005 Hurricane Dennis:
Lost another 450,000 cubic yards.
August 2005 Hurricane Katrina:
lost another 630,000 cubic yards February 2006 replaced 3.17 million cubic yards lost in Ivan, Dennis and Katrina at a cost of $14.1 million dollars.

Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2008
Hurricane Gustav:
lost 589,000 cubic yards.

May 2009
Applied for a FEMA grant to help pay 75 percent of the estimated $10 million to replace sand lost during Gustav.

For context: One dump truck holds 16 cubic yards of sand.
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On this topic of sand and the replenishment what point do the or would the powers to be, say simply..."we just can not keep paying for this, only for it to erode to nothing?"

Will that time ever come or do you feel they will always, under any and all circumstances, just keep replinishing it, at any costs?
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