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Newly restored dunes on Pinellas County beaches put to the test by severe weather

Posted on December 20, 2023

This weekend’s storm put the newly restored dunes along most of Pinellas County’s beaches to the test.

Crews had almost finished an emergency shoreline restoration project due to the damage from Hurricane Idalia. The storm this weekend, though, took a beating on the new dunes.

“Here we are four months after Idalia, and it took another severe hit,” Kelli Hammer Levy, Pinellas County’s public works director, said.

According to Hammer Levy, crews were out Sunday and Monday surveying damage and, so far, the most extensive damage is at the northern beaches. Most of the beaches across the county, though, have damage, she said.

Construction on the dunes at Indian Rocks Beach wrapped up just last week.

“I was out there on Sunday morning, and it was hard. It was hard with our team, our contractors, our consultant design engineer, our inspectors, our coastal manager,” Hammer Levy said. “Everybody has been working really hard for the last four months, you know, some six days a week. So, it’s very hard to see all that work … at the same time, I’m glad it was there for those folks who would have taken pretty much a direct hit had they not been there.”

“There are people who had water in their houses again, which is devastating, and there would have been more,” she said. “That dune was the barrier between the Gulf of Mexico and properties that are very low-lying, and it took the brunt of the wave action … They did their job, I just don’t think we were expecting almost a tropical storm-type impact in December.”

Tom Russell, who lives with his wife in Indian Rocks Beach, came down to see the damaged dunes on Monday.

“It’s very surprising to see that much gone,” he said. “They did a fantastic job trying to protect us, but they’re fighting Mother Nature,” Russell said.

Hammer Levy said after crews finish assessing the damage, they’ll determine whether to knock down some of the sand drop-offs created by the Gulf, or if they need to bring in more sand.

“Right now, we don’t have a plan for that as of yet, because we really need to understand how much we lost volume-wise,” she said. “Visually, it’s pretty dramatic, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us the entire picture. So, once we know that, we’ll have a better idea of what we need to do going forward.”

Hammer Levy said they’re looking at areas they may need to stabilize, including several beach accesses that are like sand cliffs and are closed.

“We really want people, if you’re going to the beach, to stay on the hard-packed sand, stay off the dunes and just be careful,” she said.

Before the latest storm, crews had brought in 180,000 cubic yards of sand.

The last leg of the emergency restoration project was set to start Monday in Indian Shores. Crews were assessing damage there too from the storm Monday, and getting ready for trucks to bring sand on Tuesday. Hammer Levy said that project is set to stay on track.

The county used tourist development tax money to pay for the emergency restoration project. Officials said it’s undetermined right now how they’ll pay for the repairs.


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