Traffic congestion may be result of novel beach erosion solution

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Shortly after snowbirds arrive this year bringing its usual added congestion to the county’s roadways, there will be the start of a far less welcome surge in traffic over the two mainland bridges: 26,000 dump trucks loaded with sand bound for the island’s beaches.

The Indian River County Commission decided last week to turn to inland sand mines – rather than to the customary off-shore pumping – for the sand needed to shore up a 6.5 mile stretch of beach between John’s Island and Treasure Shores Park.

While the Vero Beach City Council briefly wondered if it had authority prevent the trucks from going over the bridges, the answer was no and it should be full steam ahead for the dump trucks to begin the hauling. Simply put, it has never been done this way here before. When the county replenished the eroded beaches just south of the Sebastian Inlet and in the Porpoise Point area two years ago, it pumped in sand from the ocean floor. The many tons of sand were “chunneled” through a large pipe which ran under the water and up to the beach.

The only heavy equipment residents saw were landscaping trucks stacked with plants to stabilize the shoreline, and a heavy equipment crew which moved along as the sand was pumped to place it strategically on the beach and the dunes.

This process will be different. Sand will be dug out of mines, processed, loaded into 26,000 dump trucks, hauled across the bridges, trucked up A1A, dumped on the beaches, and spread out according to the design.

Crews will work from four or five staging sites along A1A, to be located at county beach access points and parks. The work will take place Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m .to 5 p.m. Jonathan Gorham, director of the county’s Coastal Engineering division, said he expects the process to begin shortly after the first of the year assuming the county staff is able to complete design and permit modifications, and get the whole process through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Fort Pierce-based Ranger Construction will handle the project and contract with two trucking companies, one headquartered in Indian River County and one headquartered in St. Lucie County but using local truckers, to haul the sand onto the beach using all three of the county’s bridges. By choosing a St. Lucie County firm, the county will keep more than $7 million in the region instead of spending it with Great Lakes Dredging out of Illinois, but whether the dollars will have an impact on the 15 percent jobless rate in Indian River county remains to be seen.

According to Bob Schafer, vice president of Ranger, the company the County Commisson chose has a 25-year track record of coming in on time and often under budget with public works projects, and has previously has carried out three beach renourishment projects – but nothing on this scale – in St. Lucie and Martin counties. Ranger is expected to hire about 25 people directly to work on the project, but those employees may come from Fort Pierce.

Ranger will contract with three different sand mines for the 480,000 cubic yards of sand needed for the project. Nick Stewart Mining in St. Lucie County, Henry Fischer and Sons in Sebastian and Ranch Road Lake Mine off 82nd Avenue west of Vero will all be supplying processed sand for the project.

“For all of the upland sand suppliers, the quality of the sand that is on the ground is not as good as the quality of the sand they’ve proposed to provide,” said Mike Walther of Coastal Tech, the consultant on the project. “They will process, sort out the better quality material and screen out the more coarse product.”

Rep. Ralph Poppell, who chairs the Florida House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee which sets the budget for DEP, expressed the hope the permitting might even move quicker.

“First of all, I’ve been talking to DEP, started about three or four weeks ago, to the deputy secretary and she said it hinges on how quickly the county can move,” Poppell said. “It’s just a matter of altering the permit from the ocean sand to the upland sand and I’m going to follow up on it to help.”

Whatever the plusses and minuses of using sand from mines rather than pumped from offshore, the decision to open the bidding to both approaches clearly saved taxpayers a great deal of money.

At $7 million for sand, plus about $2 million for permitting and monitoring, the project will cost less than half the original estimate of $19.7, which the county could not afford on its own. Now, with $4.68 million in help from the Sebastian Inlet Taxing District and the potential for state cost-sharing reimbursement in the future, the project might not cost the county a dime.

“We actually owe the fact that we’re voting on this to the upland sand suppliers. The bids that we’re talking about today are about 35 to 40 percent cheaper because of the upland sand suppliers being in the process,” said County Commissioner Bob Solari. “I want to express my appreciation of their efforts to make this process more competitive.”

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