Posted on May 3, 2023
Santa Rosa County is going all in on restoring Navarre Beach, and its county commissioners are going to let tourists cover the cost of the coastline facelift.
“Congratulations Navarre Beach,” Commission Chairman Colten Wright said Thursday as he dropped the gavel on a motion made without objection to add approximately 900,000 cubic yards of sand to 4.1 miles of coastline that comprises the county’s greatest visitor attraction.
The project is expected to cost just under $18 million, of which the county will be responsible for about $7 million. Under an outline produced by engineers for Coastal Tech, the Federal Emergency Management Administration would chip in approximately $4 million and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will match the county investment.
It was decided, also by unanimous consent, that while the county might initially use general fund dollars to cover the cost of the beach renourishment project, bed taxes charged to those staying in the beach front hotels protected by the restored dunes would ultimately reimburse the appropriation.
“This is an investment into the very thing that attracts people to the area,” Wright said.
A final design of the project should be completed by June. Federal and state approvals and funding are anticipated to be secured by July, at which time the project will be put out to bid.
The start of construction has been forecast for September, Coastal Tech Engineer Tem Fontaine told commissioners Thursday.
Sand for the project will be collected from a borrow area a few miles offshore, Fontaine said. It is the same borrow area that was used for the county’s first major renourishment project in 2006, when 2.9 million cubic yards of sand was put down, and in 2016, when another 1.37 million cubic yards were added.
“Essentially, that was the beach a very long time ago when the water level was a lot lower,” Fontaine said of the collection area to be utilized. “All we’re doing is picking up a historic beach and putting it on our current beach.”
Fontaine reported that Navarre Beach had stood up relatively well to “some very significant storm events” since 2006. About 83% of the initial berm remains intact and approximately 72% of the “placed fill” remains within the project area.
Hurricane Sally, which came through Sept. 6, 2020, is ultimately responsible for the decision to move ahead with the beach renourishment three years ahead of schedule.
Alongside the option of restoring the entire 4.1 mile stretch of beach, commissioners were asked to weigh a second beach restoration option. This one called for a “partial” renourishment in which sand would be placed on about a mile of coastline at the western end of Navarre Beach where it abuts Gulf Island National Seashore property.
The western section had suffered extensive erosion when Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, and FEMA had agreed to fund 75% of the anticipated $8 million cost of repairing the beach.
Under the full beach renourishment plan, FEMA is expected to pay a pro-rated portion of the total $18 million cost which lowered the amount of its investment. The federal government will not fund any portion of restoration in areas where the county has placed beach amenities, such as pavilions, in a space deemed susceptible to flood damage.
Where the county and its state and federal partners will realize a significant savings by moving forward with the full renourishment effort is with mobilization costs. A nearly $3 million mobilization fee is charged to bring the dredging equipment necessary to the job site, Fontaine said.
“That first cubic yard of sand is very expensive,” he said.
This year, Coastal Tech has recommended extending the project from the westernmost reaches of Navarre Beach onto the property of Gulf Island National Seashore. Fontaine described the western edge of Navarre Beach as a “erosional hotspot” impacted to a greater extent than other areas. The stewards of the National Seashore do not historically restore their beaches.
By extending the project further west, Fontaine said, it is possible to create a “box” extending into the National Seashore property. Water will attack the corners of the box and the areas on the National Seashore portion of the coastline will sustain the brunt of the erosion and thus preserve the Navarre Beach property.
He said discussions are ongoing with Gulf Shores National Seashore and the signals are good that Coastal Tech will receive permission needed to extend the beach renourishment project.
“In general they’re for it, but they need to see more details,” Fontaine said.
Asked about the timeline for the dredging project, Fontaine said work could be conducted at any time, even through the nesting season for highly endangered sea turtles.
He did not address whether efforts would be made to relocate turtles from areas where dredging efforts are underway.
In June of 2006 during the first effort to restore Navarre Beach, news reports documented extended work stoppages that were occurring when sea turtles were killed after being caught up in dredging equipment. The report stated that three turtles had been killed off Navarre in three months and also noted that four more turtles had been killed as a similar project was being conducted in Destin.