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Beach nourishment vital to Pinellas County tourism

These photos of Sunset Beach in Treasure Island were taken before nourishment in 2017-2018 and again after nourishment. Photos courtesy PINELLAS COUNTY

Posted on December 8, 2021

LARGO — Pinellas County’s Public Works Director Kelli Levy updated the Tourist Development Council on the latest with beach nourishment Nov. 17.

One of the questions asked and answered was, “What would happen if they did nothing,” in other words did no beach nourishment projects.

Beach nourishment means adding sand to areas of the beach where it is eroding away.

Levy said there would be no change for beaches such as Clearwater Beach where sand accumulates; however, for most beaches south of Clearwater, erosion of the sand would continue back to the seawall.

Levy also was asked if the 1/2 of 1% of Tourist Development Tax money, aka bed tax money, was enough to pay the county’s share of nourishment costs. Levy said it was for now, cautioning that it all depended on federal and state funding remaining the same. The federal government pays for 60% of most projects for beaches facing the Gulf of Mexico with the state and county each paying 20%.

The county currently has $26.7 million in bed tax money set aside for nourishment, assuming that projects currently planned in Sand Key and other go forward and grant money comes in as expected, Levy said.

Federally authorized projects include Sand Key, Treasure Island and Long Key and non-federally funded projects include Honeymoon Island and Upham Beach.

Pinellas has 35 miles of beaches on 11 barrier islands with 12 beach municipalities. Nourishment of the beaches with sand helps build them up to provide a protective barrier against storms. Sand provides nesting for sea turtles and shorebirds as well as habitat for shorebirds.

Nourishment also is important for tourism. In 2015, beach tourists spent $2.3 billion in the county and are expected to spend even more this year. Beach tourism provides thousands of jobs for local residents.

Levy said of the 35 miles of beaches, 21.4 are considered critically eroded, which is a criteria for funding eligibility from the federal government. Twelve miles of beaches are restored regularly on a six-year cycle. Ten of 12 beach municipalities have ongoing nourishment projects.

She provided details on recent projects funded by the Army Corps of Engineers, including five at Sand Key at a cost of $179 million, 12 at Treasure Island at a cost of $34 million and nine at Long Key for $28 million.

“There’s a lot of sand and a lot of money involved in these projects,” Levy said.

She talked about the difficulty acquiring easements required by the Army Corps of Engineers to place sand on private property. Clearwater has the easements it needs, she said, as does much of south county for now; however, Sand Key from Dan’s Island to Redington is a problem with only about 48% of easements obtained thus far, putting the next cycle of nourishment in jeopardy.

Property owners don’t understand why after all this time of getting sand without the easements they are required now and they don’t want to give up their property rights. Levy said the county was continuing to work with the Army Corps of Engineers on the problem. She said the need to get easements now was a fix for a mistake made years ago and only discovered during the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

She also talked about the use of T-groins, which is a method of holding sand in place. She said the use of T-groins is challenging because of the requirement that no harm be done down beach from the structures. If harm is done, mediation has to be done.

Levy was asked why sand from areas where it accumulates, such as Clearwater Beach and John’s Pass, wasn’t used for nourishment instead of dredging elsewhere and bringing in that sand. She said there are approved “borrow areas” with sand of a quality approved for nourishment.

The problem with John’s Pass is that sand is building up on privately owned property, and the government doesn’t want to pay to improve private property. Levy said a plan is in the works for a one-time project to use the sand to fix the erosion caused by Tropical Storm Eta on Madeira Beach.

She said the Army Corps of Engineers looks at all kinds of methods for nourishment to decide the most efficient, longest-lasting way within budget.

“We’re sand rich,” Levy said, adding that the Tampa Bay ebb shoal is huge.

She said it is impossible to tell where the sand that accumulates in some areas, such as John’s Pass and Tierra Verde’s Grand Canal, originates. Some blame nourishment projects. However, Levy said, In general, tidal currents are the main reason for the accumulation of sand.

For more information on nourishment, visit


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