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Longboat heads into hurricane season with bulked-up beaches

Town's beach work will progress through the first half of hurricane season.

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  • | 3:30 a.m. May 20, 2021
  • Longboat Key
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As beach work proceeds along Longboat Key's shoreline, residents and town leaders are preparing for another hurricane season, this time with more sand in many stretches than in 2020.

The six-month season kicks off on June 1 with independent long-range forecasts predicting an above-average year for Atlantic basin storms and hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to issue its first official season outlook this week. 

Fire Chief Paul Dezzi led a discussion last week about hurricane preparations and what's different in 2021. In 2020, COVID-19 concerns prompted emergency managers in Sarasota and Manatee counties to set aside more square footage per person than in years past, 40 square feet in Sarasota's 11 shelters and 60 in Manatee's 24 shelters. Capacity was down from previous seasons, when 20 square feet was the norm. 

This year, with thousands of local residents vaccinated, the capacities have returned to normal. 

On the beaches, more than a million cubic yards of sand will have been deposited by the end of the summer, widening  the shoreline townwide. 

Bulking up the beaches

Since 1993, the town has added 7.7 million cubic yards of sand on its beaches. Beach project manager Charlie Mopps said the figure will be closer to 9 million after its current projects are finished. The plan is to be completed by August, but that's based on optimal conditions. 

“Beach projects are always subject to Mother Nature,” Mopps said. “That’s why when you look at our schedule…it always says…‘this schedule is subject to change due to unforeseen things,’ and that happens to be weather in our case.”

Part of the design of the beach-renourishment work was to keep upland homes, businesses and streets safer in a storm, Town Manager Tom Harmer said. 

Hurricane Eta in 2020 brought coastal flooding and storm surge effects to the island. About a quarter-million cubic yards of sand were lost, though experts are adamant that such wash-aways don't often result in permanent losses.  Hurricane Irma, in 2017, was a more intense storm with less local damage. 

“That’s why it’s important for us to have what we call engineered beaches that have a certain amount of protection and dunes, because you just never know,” Harmer said.

Dredging companies are prepared to secure their vessels and equipment in case a storm or hurricane passes near Longboat Key, Harmer said, but each case and each storm is different. 

“Hurricane Irma was a wind event. We were fortunate it never reached hurricane-level winds in Sarasota County,” Harmer said. “Even though we had a lot of damage and power lines down and roof damage, it kind of goes to show you that, that was not that powerful of a storm for us, but you could start to see the damage that could occur.

“Whereas Hurricane Eta was completely different. It was much more of a flooding [and] water event.”


Future Zoom meeting planned

At 3 p.m. June 24, the town is planning to hold another virtual hurricane preparation meeting with Dezzi, Harmer, Deputy Police Chief Frank Rubino, the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer, Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane and ABC 7 chief meteorologist Bob Harrigan.

Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren said holding the meeting virtually allows people who have left their homes for the summer season to listen. She said the chamber expanded its audience last year because it was a virtual event.

“I think it’s a good lesson maybe even for the future,” Loefgren said. “Once we get COVID totally under control and we all have our vaccinations, we even could do — like next year — a virtual and an in-person [event]. We could do a hybrid, but I think keeping the virtual part would be really important.”



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