Posted on December 6, 2023
PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – The latest leg of Pinellas County’s emergency beach restoration project is underway.
Crews have placed 245,000 tons of sand across beaches since September after Hurricane Idalia destroyed most of the dunes in Pinellas County. The project in Madeira Beach started on November 29.
“We’ve lost a lot of the dunes along the entire beach,” Dr. John Bishop, Pinellas County’s coastal management coordinator, said. “We’ve lost a lot of the beach too. So, this dune project really is to rebuild those dunes that were there, but also, add protection to the rest of the areas too that need that protection in the coming years.”
The project is located from two condos north of Archibald Park to one condo south in Madeira. Bishop said the county got easement approval in that area, but not in other parts of Madeira where they were hoping to also restore dunes.
“The beaches are really Pinellas County’s brand, and so we need to maintain those and replace them in order to make sure that we have place in space for tourists to come and recreate,” Bishop said. “But they also provide a storm damage benefit, which is another of the main reasons why we build these projects.”
“They protect the upland infrastructure, the condos, but also the streets, the shops and all of the public infrastructure that’s also landward. So, the products provide a lot of protection, but they also provide a lot of recreational benefit, so it’s very important,” he said.
Crews recently finished projects in Pass-a-Grille, Sunset Beach and Upham Beach. Madeira Beach’s city manager said this is the first time in decades they’ve needed beach restoration. The 37 beach groins have helped keep the sand on the beach in the past, he said.
“It’s pretty amazing that the dunes and the sand were cut. It was almost like somebody came out with a massive knife and just sliced from top to bottom,” City Manager Robin Gomez said of Idalia’s damage. “And, of course, there were, you know, hundreds and hundreds of tons of sand out on the parking lot and onto Gulf Boulevard.”
“The millions of visitors that come here, they come here mainly to see our sand,” Gomez said. “So, it’s important that it obviously be in the best condition it can be.”
The tourist development tax is helping pay for the project. Last year, more than 15 million people visited the area, and even more are expected this year, according to Visit St. Pete Clearwater.
“It’s not a big surprise or a big deal or even so much of an inconvenience as it’s just, you know, part of the progress here in our town and part of a necessity to make sure that we still have beaches for people to come visit,” Jeri Davis, owner of Saltwater Hippie and Brass Captain Saloon & Barbeque – located near the construction site in Madeira – said about the project.
Davis said some businesses on the beach closed during the construction and lost money during a time of year when they get lots of visitors from northern states and Canada. They also won’t be putting up the Christmas tree at Archibald Park due to the construction this year, she said.
“If they [crews] weren’t here doing what they’re doing and our beaches continued to erode away, people aren’t going to want to come here. So, it’s a blessing and a curse in a little bit of away,” she said.
The project in Madeira Beach should wrap up by Dec. 29. County officials ask the public to stay out of the construction area while crews work.
“Even if you don’t see work going on, please stay out. Right now, we’re still surveying and measuring the work done, and if you come in and disturb the sand and dig in it, it creates more work for the contractor that we have to figure out after the fact. So please, try to avoid the area until we release it,” Bishop said.
Belleair Beach’s project is expected to wrap up by Dec. 29 as well. Indian Rocks Beach should be finished by Dec. 16. The county is also planning a project in Indian Shores.