When Irene passed the Space Coast surfers rejoiced, but coastal property owners viewed waves with less enthusiasm. Residents feared the Category 3 hurricane would pull a few feet of sand off the beach, again, making them even more vulnerable to the next storm.
Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne in 2004, and subsequent storms have battered Space Coast beaches. To fix the damage, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Brevard County implemented an emergency sand replenishment project in early 2005. However, much of what was pumped along Indialantic and Melbourne Beach in 2005 has washed away, at least a year ahead of expectations, prompting the government to spend more than $12 million to replace it. The same stretch of beach, called the South Reach, had already been renourished in phases between 2001 in 2003.
According to Mike McGarry, Brevard County beach renourishment coordinator, in 2010, an Illinois dredging company moved about 650,000 cubic yards of sand from shoals several miles off Cape Canaveral and pumped it onto 3.8 miles of beach — from Spessard Holland North Beach Park to just north of Indialantic.
McGarry, like coastal property owners and businesses that cater to tourists, are hoping that this time the sand settles onto offshore shoals with the usual surf bringing much of the lost beach back in within the next few weeks. McGarry feels that Space Coast beaches are currently in good shape.
Florida Today reports that Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach are among the narrowest shorelines in Brevard and most at risk from storm erosion. Because of near-shore rocky fish habitat and a tiny marine bristle worm that lives there, federal agencies have prevented dredges from pumping sand along those two beaches for the past decade. Meanwhile, officials spent almost $68 million bulking up the oceanfront to the north and south.
A total of 5.95 miles of beach within the North Reach were renourished in 2005. While the North Reach includes all the beaches between Jetty Park and Patrick Air Force Base, not all of the North Reach beaches were included in the 2005 renourishment efforts. Only those with significant erosion were included.
According to Dredging Today, a new draft plan under review works around the environmental roadblock. It would bring another $30 million in sand — dredged offshore, then trucked in — to the stretch called “Mid Reach” as soon as spring 2012. “It’s a very good compromise,” Satellite Beach Mayor Joe Ferrante said. “The hurricanes of 2004 showed how vulnerable we were without beach renourishment. We lost all of our beach dune crossovers. . . . We took many, many hits.” The roughly 31,800 truckloads of sand would go on 7.8 miles of beach, from just south of Patrick Air Force Base to just north of Indialantic.
Is renourishment worth the cost?
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say, despite the risks and cost, the project’s economics add up. They say that for every $1 spent, it would pump about $3 into the local economy in the form of property protection and tourism.
“Quite frankly, I didn’t think we’d ever get [the new plan] through,” said Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism. “I think they finally looked at it and said if we don’t do something, we’re going to lose a lot of buildings.” Varley sees tourists, as well as sea turtles, snubbing the Space Coast if the beach narrows too much.
Turtle nests affected
This Examiner spoke with two of the volunteer members of the Brevard County Beach Patrol on Sunday morning, They confirmed suspicions that the number of turtle nests lost from Hurricane Irene was significant. About 20,000 documented sea turtle nests exist in Brevard County and the Sea Turtle Preservation Society was receiving eggs that had been uncovered in the storm surge as well as abandoned hatchlings by the dozens.
The Patrick Air Force Base federally-owned beaches were littered with unhatched eggs and exposed roots verified that the water had indeed risen to the dunes. A vertical measurement showed a loss of about one foot of sand. Fortunately, the turtle nesting season is more than half way over and it can only be hoped that the losses aren’t as severe as predicted.
In Indian River and Brevard counties, turtles found should be taken to either of the following:
- Sea Turtle Preservation Society, 111 S. Miramar Ave. (A1A), Indialantic, 321-676-1701; www.seaturtlespacecoast.org
- Barrier Island Sanctuary, 8385 South A1A, Melbourne Beach, 321-723-3556; http://barrierislandcenter.com
To read more about the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, follow this link. To find out more about Hurricane Irene, follow this link. And for up-to-date happenings, check in daily with Space Coast Life.