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Longboat Key Thursday, Apr. 1, 2021 1 month ago

APRIL FOOLS: 'Dirt-cheap' deal on sand

BOGO purchase for beaches will lead to long-term supply, five-story dunes.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

APRIL FOOLS -- A money-saving solution intended to keep town beaches well-stocked with sand for decades to come will add a unique feature to the island’s Manatee County shoreline – dunes rivaling those found in the great deserts of the world.

Beach renourishment efforts getting under way this spring encountered rock-bottom prices for sand, largely driven by altered supply and demand forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Knowing another renourishment project is likely five to seven years in the future, the town made a deal to buy twice the sand now for essentially the same budgeted price. Additionally, $3 million in federal relief funds will be pumped into the project.

Long-range financial projections indicate the two-for-one purchase could save beachfront taxpayers in the neighborhood of $12 million, while other residents will see a savings of about $8 million.

Once the previously planned work is completed, the surplus sand will be pumped or dumped east of the surfline, creating dunes 40 to 50 feet in height from around Beer Can Island south to a spot near Bayfront Park, gradually sloping to sea level once again. A quarter-scale test dune was created on Bradenton Beach to rest the feasibility.

 As the surplus sand is needed years later, it can be easily be moved into position.

Coastal engineer T.E. Lawrence said the town’s project coincided with historic sand prices that were “dirt cheap.”

“Everyone is kind of laying low, covering their bills but not launching major projects,’’ he said. “Sand dredges are parked, crews laid off. So when a town comes around with an open checkbook asking for sand, they scramble for the business. One company I know actually printed buy one, get one coupons that essentially double the buy. Sand will never be this cheap again.’’

Residents can expect to see the soft, white sand dunes piling up following turtle nesting season in late 2021. Nearly a million cubic yards will line the shore in a gentle slope by February 2022.

Access to the water will be accomplished two ways:

  • Via a series of ramps and staircases erected at some public parking points and at selected condominium communities and private homes. The governor’s office is coordinating the site-selection process for these pop-up dune crossovers with the help of the Manatee County Commission and a handful of property developers.
  • A more adventurous trek up, over and down the other side. Officials said benches and scenic overlooks will be added to the sand dunes at the summit, as will ropes to assist with ascent and descent in steeper areas.

Aside from the financial savings, turtle-nesting supporters were thrilled to learn the dunes will effectively block light from nearby homes and businesses from reaching the beach. Such light is often responsible for diverting turtles from returning to the sea, often causing deadly strandings and interactions with humans.

“This could bring the best beach conditions to our area for turtles in more than half century,’’ said Shelly Comeashore, a volunteer with TurtlesFirst!, an organization whose name is self-explanatory. “Pristine sand, no light, few people. I can’t wait to tell the turtles.’’

The National Weather Service will begin preparing a special conversion chart with which Manatee County residents of Longboat Key can calculate earlier sunset times, based on the local dune height.

Longboat Key Fire Rescue is considering initially stationing personnel atop the dunes as a helpful guide and to serve as a beachwatch.

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