Just outside Town Manager Bruce St. Denis’ office sits a Local Government Award that was presented to the town in September by the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
The shiny black award was based on Longboat Key’s current and historical efforts regarding sustainable beaches and was awarded to the Town Commission for its efforts in maintaining its beach-management plan.
The irony of that award, which was presented just two months ago, is not lost on St. Denis.
Never has the town manager’s beach-management plan, which he has implemented since 1996 at the direction of the Town Commission, been questioned and scrutinized on the level it is today.
Worried that town taxpayers won’t approve an approximately $45 million island-wide beach project (for sand and north-end structures) question on the March ballot, the Town Commission is considering postponing the sand portion of the project until November 2012.
That’s because three, past beach-project ballot questions that were approved never came close to approaching a $45 million price tag. In 1993, a beach bond question was approved for $9.73 million. In 1996, a beach bond question was approved for $4.27 million, and in 2006, a beach bond was approved for approximately $20 million. Combined, those three projects don’t add up to what the looming project could cost.
Commissioners will review the new cost options at its 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16 regular workshop.
Although the price tag is high, St. Denis thinks it could be a bad decision to delay the project.
By delaying, the town could miss the chance to receive a $5 million credit from Port Dolphin LLC, a company that is placing a natural-gas pipeline through a patch of beach-quality sand to which the town has rights. And it will cost an additional $4 million to delay the beach project by a year.
If the town receives the Port Dolphin credit and moves ahead with its beach project in November 2011, the entire beach project, including structures needed to hold sand on the north end, could be performed for about $36 million.
“We would essentially be getting the structures for free,” St. Denis said.
But the commission wants St. Denis to look into other ways to do beach projects, to make sure the town isn’t missing any opportunities to save money.
But St. Denis says that’s exactly what he has done over the last 14 years.
The town manager doesn’t believe there is any other way to do the project effectively than by using a Hopper dredge to bring sand to shore. And it appears that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), which is responsible for permitting all beach projects statewide, would agree with that assessment.
Although FDEP officials declined to comment for this story because it’s the department’s policy not to discuss what could be permitted, FDEP has only permitted approximately six “experimental technology” projects statewide in the last 30 years.
Of those six projects, which contained applications such as geo-textile tubes and beach stabilizers that are placed onshore to hold sand, only one is still in existence. And that project, still in place in Hillsboro Beach, is currently being yanked out of the beach for a failure to hold sand there.
A 1994 FDEP report states that an experimental technology barrier reef used offshore in Palm Beach showed that “there has been a continual decrease in sand volume and the rate of erosion has increased.”
That Palm Beach reef has been removed and the city now renourishes its beaches using a dredge.
But artificial barrier reefs are just a sampling of some of the other beach alternatives.
Village resident and former Commissioner Gene Jaleski has urged St. Denis for years to bring everything from Sandgrabbers to sand bypass systems to the beach in an effort to preserve sand onshore at a cheaper cost. The state lists many of these types of systems as “experimental technology.”
St. Denis admits there are multitudes of technologies available.
A Google search, St. Denis states, comes up with 5 million hits of beach technology alternatives.
A few options include “undercurrent stabilizers” built by Holmberg Technologies and the Sandgrabber.
But neither Holmberg, nor the owners of the Sandgrabber/Sandsaver, currently have a permitted project in the state of Florida.
A Holmberg stabilizer project created in the 1980s off Captiva Island was removed years ago in favor of traditional sand renourishment.
The Sandgrabber, meanwhile, is a system of stacked masonry cinder blocks that sit in the water and “rebuild sandy beaches and prevent shoreline erosion,” according to its website.
A newer version of the Sandgrabber is the Sandsaver, which the Middletown, Ohio,-based company says is more durable and made of polyethylene.
Shawn Cravens, general manager of the Sandsaver, told The Longboat Observer he is confident the product will work on Longboat Key and is offering 20 free modules to the town.
But when asked if the Sandsaver is permitted in Florida or along any body of water with large wave currents such as the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, Cravens confirmed it is not.
“We have tried for the last seven years to get a system installed in Florida,” Cravens said. “But the state has told us they will never permit our structures. It’s up to the town and the media to help us get Sandsavers installed.”
Although he wouldn’t comment on the technologies, St. Denis did say that the town’s 10-mile beach project requires structures and solutions “that are massive because of the weight of the water,” noting that groins placed behind the Islander Club are much larger and heavier than any of the experimental technology modules that would sit onshore or just offshore.
However, a recent e-mail to Jaleski reveals St. Denis’ feelings on Sandsavers and other alternative technologies.
Jaleski sent an e-mail to St. Denis Nov. 29, explaining that a Sandsaver representative was willing to ship 20 free modules to the town for their review, noting the town should be able to quickly permit a pilot test of a Sandsaver because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has used them on the shores of the Great Lakes.
But St. Denis, in a reply e-mail to Jaleski dated Dec. 3, states that FDEP would take years to evaluate a Sandsaver.
Wrote St. Denis to Jaleski: “I know that you are seeking the magic bullet. We all are. But I do not think that the town should be in the technology-testing business unless there is a strong indication that a particular technology will enhance the town’s beach program. I do not see where these structures have been ocean tested, especially in a high-erosion area in the vicinity of and arguably part of an inlet’s tidal prism. There are also issues with turtle nesting, as a Sandsaver (which is a type of breakwater) creates a shore parallel barrier if placed above the mean high water line.”
St. Denis also sent Jaleski a Nov. 20 article from the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, which states that the town of Hillsboro Beach approved a $125,000 settlement with a company called EcoShore International to end an experimental beach project that the town said produced disappointing results.
EcoShore, as part of the settlement, is now forced to find and remove dozens of 6-foot long plastic tube modules buried on the beach as part of a project that never worked.
Furthermore, the Hillsboro agreement states: “This will allow the town to move forward with a more traditional sand dredging project to renourish beaches.”
When asked about the experimental project, St. Denis said the company approached the town years ago to perform the same type of experiment.
“I’m glad the commission didn’t approve the experiment,” St. Denis said.
‘No alternatives would work’
Coastal Planning & Engineering (CP&E) Longboat Key Beach Project Manager Doug Mann says his company does not believe alternative technologies will work on Longboat Key or on the Gulf Coast.
“Sand bypassing applications can work well on the east coast of Florida, where the transfer of sand runs from north to south continuously,” Mann said. “But on the Gulf Coast, sand moves in all directions and it won’t work.”
Mann also said Sandsaver applications will not work in Florida and won’t be permitted.
Mann said the Department of Environmental Protection would not approve any other alternative technologies for a Longboat Key beach project.
“None of the technologies would work here and none of them eliminates the need for island-wide renourishments,” he said.
When asked why the town has continued to use beach engineer CP&E for 17 years straight, St. Denis doesn’t waiver.
“CP&E is one of the most qualified firms in the state, which is what the town is required to hire,” St. Denis said. “CP&E is also the engineer of record for the city of Sarasota and Manatee County.”
FDEP also recently hired CP&E to manage its sand searches for the entire state.
Boca Raton-based CP&E, founded in 1984, has designed, obtained permits and monitored more than 65 beach projects off the shores of both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The company, according to its website, has permitted and monitored more beach projects than any other firm in the United States.
Renourishing the beach, St. Denis said, only allows you to have so many tools to hold sand, as required by the state.
“You have seawalls as a last-ditch effort, groins that sit perpendicular to the shore and breakwaters that sit parallel to the shore,” St. Denis said. “All the other technologies imitate one of those to a lesser degree.”
And to the detractors who don’t believe the entire beach needs to be renourished every six to eight years because certain portions of the beach don’t lose sand, St. Denis said that’s not true.
“We try to build a beach that is never less than 6 feet high and 130 feet wide all over the island,” St. Denis said.
St. Denis explains that sand is constantly moving on any beach.
“Waves on Longboat Key take the sand away from your property and bring (new sand) down to you (from the north),” St. Denis said. “A stable beach is one where the amount of sand being taken away is equal to the amount of sand coming in, while an erosional beach is one where more sand is going away than coming in.”
So, if a resident exclaims the sand is plentiful behind his home, St. Denis said that’s only because that sand is coming from a place to the north.
“If you have a beach right now, we might not put that much sand in front of you,” St. Denis said. “But the reason your beach looks stable is because there’s a place that’s eroding to the north that’s coming to you. If we don’t feed that beach (to the north), your sand is still leaving and you will start to see erosion.”
The best example of this exists behind the Islander Club. Some residents of En Provence, which sits just south of the Islander Club, claimed they were losing their beach last summer after the town installed two groins behind the condominium towers to hold sand at the high-erosion spot. But, in reality, the groins to the north had started working to hold the sand at the Islander Club.
“They (en Provence) still have a beach,” St. Denis said. “It’s just not as much sand as they were used to because it was all coming from their neighbor who couldn’t keep any sand.”
On average, St. Denis said the town needs 1.5 million cubic yards of sand for an island-wide beach project.
“We need a dredge to bring the sand to shore because we need so much sand,” St. Denis said. “It’s the most cost-effective way to do it. If there was a better way, everybody would be doing it by now.”
The following information below outlines how several neighboring communities renourish their beaches.
Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County’s director of Manatee County Conservation Lands Management, calls it “dumb luck” that his county is able to use cheaper renourishment practices, such as a cutter head dredge, to renourish the beaches on Anna Maria Island.
“Longboat Key’s methods are limited to a Hopper dredge because its sand source is more than seven miles away,” Hunsicker said. “We are able to renourish our beaches by using rich white sand deposits located near the northern tip of Anna Maria Island by using a vacuum technique known as the cutter head dredge.”
Hunsicker also verified that the county hires Coastal Planning & Engineering to perform its beach renourishment projects.
The county, like the town of Longboat Key, uses tourist development tax dollars to help pay for its beaches. But the county relies solely on federal and state grants to help pay for the projects, while Longboat Key has the flexibility of doing projects when necessary because residents help pay for its cost via two beach millage districts.
Sarasota County Coastal Resources Manager Laird Wreford keeps watch over all of the county’s maintained beaches, which include Manasota Key Public Beach, Blind Pass Park, Casey Key Public Beach, Turtle Beach and the popular Siesta Key Public Beach.
Two years ago, the county completed an $11 million renourishment project that put down 1 million cubic yards of sand south of Siesta Key by using a hopper dredge.
Although the county doesn’t keep a beach engineer on retainer, it hired Coastal Planning & Engineering to help with the county’s project.
Wreford said additional renourishment projects would be discussed in the future, including a mile-long beach project that needs to be done at Manasota Key and a three-mile project further to the south.
City of Venice
City of Venice Public Information Officer Pam Johnson said the city’s beach is renourished every 10 years, with the first renourishment project occurring in 1995.
The city, which uses beach consultant Dr. Cliff Truitt (who has also worked with Longboat Key) to monitor its beaches, performed a $12.1 million renourishment project in 2005-06.
The project renourished all 3.3 miles of the beach the city maintains by placing 1 million cubic yards of sand on the shore.
The city’s sand was taken eight to 12 miles offshore by Hopper dredge and transported to the shore by a barge.
Pinellas County Coastal Coordinator Dr. Nicole Elko says the county has permits it uses every 10 years to dredge the inlets that get filled up with sand that used to be on the county’s beach.
The county, however, also uses sand barged in from several miles away when the entire beach needs to be renourished.
The county completed a $45 million Hopper dredge project in 2005-06 to renourish nine miles of the county’s 35 miles of beach coastline. The project involved placing more than 2 million cubic yards of sand on the beach.
However, 13 miles of the county’s 35 miles of beach are restored naturally and need no renourishment help.
The county also uses nine terminal groins to help hold a beach along a five-mile stretch of coastline, with the oldest one built in 1937 and the latest built in 2000.
To download a map of the town's beach management plan, click here.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].