Activist sees ‘progress’ on Mid-Reach sand dispute

Undaunted after coming up empty-handed in a quest to halt the dumping of what he calls “muddy sand” on beaches bordering the Mid-Reach near shore reef, activist Matt Fleming says his effort has been a success despite the failure to pass several local regulations Fleming wanted from the Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach city councils.

He noted significant progress, including reaching 10,000 signatures on a petition, a resolution by the Satellite Beach City Council asking the state to buy beach properties for conservation and, what Fleming considers his biggest victory, that the county has discontinued use of a sand mine that wasn’t meeting standards. The fear is that the fine silt in the sand will cover the living reef and smother it.

“We are starting to see real progress,’’ said Fleming, who has organized two protests on the beach and has, along with supporters, spoken out at government meeting after government meeting for nearly a year until somebody finally listened.

Now he takes the protest in new directions, including a new website for the betterment and preservation of near-short reefs in the area.

The trucks with mined sand which prompted the protest are no longer on the Mid-Reach beach with the project now 95 percent complete except for a few sea oats left to plant along the re-nourished dunes. The sand in question now is mixed with other sand and bleached by the sun.

Objectively, a quick stroll along the beach demonstrates that the shoreline is looking a lot more like the color and texture locals are accustomed to as it blends with the incoming tide. Also, the steep drop-offs, chewed-up dunes and boardwalks or staircases that plunge into nowhere are back on solid footing with the new influx of sand.

The project may nearly be over, but Fleming says the issues it brought up prompted a new wave of awareness about the near-shore reefs. A wish list of activists’ proposed regulations remains.

The failed Save the Mid-Reach resolutions included: to independently test and monitor the quality of the sand; to “end the current the current policy of widening the beach and burying the reef”; and to incorporate “more education and projection of the reef in city activities.’’

Disputing Fleming’s claim that the sand being used is muddy in a March 27 presentation to the Indian Harbour Beach City Council was Mike McGarry, with the Brevard County Natural Resources Department, and sand expert Dr. Kevin Bodge with Olsen Associates, Inc.

McGarry said the negative reaction to the latest replenishment project – with dump trucks on the beach and its initially dark mined sand – is understandable. However, he contended that the sand met grain size criteria in most tests. Once the sand is spread around and allowed to bleach in the sun and sea oats are added, the result is an “engineered dune” with very much the same properties as a natural dune.

Another point addressed in the presentation involved the upcoming larger replenishment project in the Mid-Reach said to be approved for the addition of 630,000 cubic yards of sand. McGarry explained that the permit was for that amount based on a 2004-like worst-case scenario. Actual project needs will fit a “template” of the natural beach and only use the amount of sand required to match the template up to a maximum of 630,000 cubic yards.

The near-shore reef will have sand added near the shore in the project, but the amount is far less than previous beach re-nourishment projects in Cocoa Beach.

The larger debate at the workshop centered on beach re-nourishment as an alternative to property owners “armoring” their land against erosion with sea walls, an environmentally unfriendly method allowed if the property is in imminent danger. The general consensus of activists, environmental experts and some city and county officials at the workshop was that the government purchase for conservation of more shoreline along the mid-reach area is the only sure-fire way to protect the reef. Where the funding to do that would come from, however, is unclear, as the existing amount of protected, environmentally sensitive lands has been recently challenged in county budget talks.

Fleming said Save the Mid-Reach is preparing to incorporate as a nonprofit, to launch a website called Brevard’s Barrier Island Reef, and to host a March for Our Ocean event as part of a national effort to raise awareness about the global threats of offshore drilling and plastics pollution.

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