County plans for future beach projects, waits for turtles to hatch

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — County officials met Thursday to rehash the North County beach sand project and to plan for further shoreline protection as they await results sea turtle hatching results.

The “Lessons Learned” Subcommittee of the county Beaches and Shores Preservation Committee was formed in an effort to duplicate what worked — and to not replicate what didn’t — about the state’s first large-scale engineered beach project using material from sand mines. “It’s not to point fingers at anybody, it’s to identify issues that we had along the way,” said subcommittee chair Bob Anderson, a volunteer and local financial advisor.

The pluses of the project, according to the group, are the high quality of the sand and the lower price as compared to previous sand-pumping efforts.

The tab so far is more than $10 million, not including several years of monitoring and the construction of a mitigation reef that may be required by regulators. When all told, replenishing and monitoring the 6.6-mile stretch of beach in phases one and two could rise to about $15 million.

But that’s still $6 million less than the county had budgeted to bring in a dredging crew from the Midwest to pump sand from an off-shore area about a mile east of Round Island Park on the Indian River-St. Lucie County line.

The subcommittee discussed how to improve the bidding process and how to speed up the approval of future permit applications to state and federal agencies.

The North County project hit many snags along the way as changes to the design and specifications sent engineers and sand miners back to the drawing board more than once to quell regulators’ fears about the use of trucked-in, upland sand.

There were also delays in the production of sand at the mines, which caused work to cease several times. Some of the delays were unavoidable due to weather. Some could have possibly been avoided and the county wants to try to minimize those in the future.

A “stick and carrot” approach was suggested, with economic incentives for finishing early and possible penalties for running behind or not finishing on time. The most recent project was not completed on time and the county had to obtain an extension from regulators.

“If you put in a penalty then they won’t bid on it, but if you put in an incentive, they will bid,” said Commissioner Peter O’Bryan, who serves as board liaison to the Beaches and Shores Advisory Committee.

O’Bryan said some operational aspects of the mining process could be improved to eliminate lost days of work. Coastal engineer Michael Walther of Coastal Tech also said that the county should begin the Request for Qualifications and Request for Proposal process in the spring if it is expecting a start date in November.

In going over the bullet points on his agenda, Anderson also recognized the need for better communication with the beach-going public and with the business community the next time the area’s beaches are shut down for extended periods of time due to construction.

The recommendations from Thursday’s meeting will be combined with those from a meeting held in June and will be presented to the Beaches and Shores Preservation Committee and ultimately to the Board of County Commissioners.

The height of sea turtle nesting season ends on Oct. 31 and the county’s data on nesting is due to the state by Nov. 15. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will then have 15 days to review the data and respond, either by moving the project forward or by asking for more information.

County Coastal Engineer James Gray said it’s way too early to predict a positive outcome, but that initial signs observed by turtle monitors and local residents have given him hope.

“Nesting has been very, very high this year,” Gray said, adding that it’s not the number of nests, but the number of viable, hatched turtles — as compared to a control beach area — that will determine the upland sand’s adequacy as turtle habitat.

The second phase of the North County replenishment project, if all goes as expected and the turtle nesting results meet the regulatory guidelines, should begin around Dec. 1.

The two beaches to be affected this fall are Golden Sands Park and Treasure Shores Park. The beaches will be closed while construction is underway.

The next major beach replenishment project planned will target the shoreline of Central Vero Beach in the city limits.

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