Posted on September 18, 2023
Tampa Bay-area beaches serve many purposes. A fun place to spend a day soaking in the sun or a home to sea turtle nests and a wide variety of seabird species. It’s tourism that is driving and positively impacting the economy.
The most important function the beaches serve is likely one most don’t think about – our beaches are a barrier of protection when storms pass through. The sand and the dunes protect inland infrastructure from flooding and devastation when severe weather approaches.
Hurricane Idalia showed the importance of having enough sand on the beach. Every Pinellas County beach lost a significant amount of sand as the king tide and storm surge pushed waves further and further in.
Now, to help repair the damages done by Hurricane Idalia, the county is piecing together a plan to stabilize the beaches impacted.
“The county is going to be implementing emergency control measures in the hardest hit areas to get them shored up at least through hurricane season,” Tony Fabrizio, the senior public relations coordinator, shared via email. “Sunset Beach in Treasure Island is among those areas. There are others, and we’re working with municipal partners.”
Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Cookie Kennedy confirmed her municipality is also working with the county for repair work.
“We are surveying them to find out exactly how much each will cost,” Kennedy explained. “They’re all a little different, some have higher levels of sand loss. So as we get that, that’s going to be a part of the emergency renourishment.”
Pinellas County is using its emergency procurement process to expedite the work, with a goal of beginning repair work in a matter of weeks. The work will include temporary erosion control structures and dunes. The plan is still under development with the county unable to provide more specific details about what the work entails.
Before and After photos highlight the beach erosion following Hurricane Idalia.
“We’re at the end of a nourishment cycle, so many, many sections of the beach, were narrowed to start with,” Wang said. “So when you have a narrower beach, then you have big waves on top of elevated water level, [it] makes the ocean very effective eroding the beach.”
The barrier islands receive beach renourishment through the Army Corps of Engineers every few years. The project is broken into three segments: Treasure Island, Sand Key, and Long Key. Renourishment is years past due on some beaches as the Army Corps recently changed its requirements for the project to move forward.
Now, the Army Corps requires perpetual property easements from property owners in areas zoned for renourishment. The easements give the county the right to access their land for the project to be made possible.
“This is a one time that you’ll see county, state, [and] local officials are together with getting the emergency funding so that we can bring the beaches back up to the standard that we need at this time to keep everyone safe,” Kennedy said.
Some of the areas most significantly impacted by Hurricane Idalia include Sunset Beach and Pass-a-Grille Beach.
“Those dunes have been growing over the past 30-40 years,” Wang said regarding Pass-a-Grille beach. “So the storm took out about 30 years worth of dune in Pass-a-Grille, about 30 years worth of dune with Bellaire Beach.”
Wang said beach renourishment is the newest technology we have in combatting beach erosion. 50 to 60 years ago, sea walls and other structures were built to prevent erosion. Now, pumping new sand ashore is standard practice.
“And as we learn over time, it turns out beach nourishment, although it has the element of sacrificial sand, it is still the most efficient and most economical method,” Wang explained.
The sacrificial sand, he mentioned, is the sand placed on the beach that will inevitably wash away, regardless of mitigation efforts.
“We are at a pretty urgent point right now,” Wang said. “The coast works as a whole. And we really need to deal with it, like the entire coast. So we are at an urgent time, I do hope we can come up with some [solutions] because we have, you know, the success we have achieved over the last 30 years that we’re really at that tipping point.
“So if we keep delaying then we’re going to be on the other side of the curve.”
Pinellas County is cautioning beachfront property and homeowners to not do their own work or hire contracted work to address beach erosion. This work often requires local, state, and federal permitting and could interfere with the work the county is planning to complete.