Gulf Beaches: $20 Million for Repairs

The majority of the money will go to Sunset Beach on Treasure Island and Pass-A-Grille Beach on Long Key.

With less than five months before hurricane season 2013 begins, Pinellas County officials are working feverishly to ensure one of the county's most treasured resources are in good condition — its beaches.

This week, Pinellas County Commissioners voted to request legislative assistance in obtaining money to fund the $20 million to complete repair beaches damaged by Tropical Storm Debby.

The majority of the money will go to Sunset Beach on Treasure Island and Pass-a-Grille Beach on Long Key.

The areas took a beating during Tropical Storm Debby in 2012, losing dozens of feet in sand and have yet to fully recover, said Andy Squires, coastal manager for Pinellas County's Department of Environment and Infrastructure.

For an area that relies on tourism dollars generated largely because of its beaches, getting the coast back in order is a top priority.

"The biggest concern is a major storm eroding more of our beaches to the point that buildings and infrastructure are damaged as well as the resultant economic impact from lost tourism," Squires said about the importance of these projects. 

Tropical Storm Debby was not the biggest storm to hit the Pinellas beaches. In 2004, Hurricane Frances barreled through the coast, but Debby stayed longer and mover slower, causing more devastation than even a full fledged hurricane, said Ping Wang, a professor for University of South Florida's Department of Geology.

In 2012, Wang published a report detailing the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Debby to the Pinellas beaches.

Among his findings were that Sunset Beach and Pass-A-Grille Beach suffered the worst because the beaches were already narrow.

For example, while a beach like Indian Shores beach lost more than 30 feet of sand, it already had about 60 feet of beach. Sunset Beach may have only lost 21 feet of sand, but that erosion almost depleted the entire beach's sand supply.

"The issue at Sunset is worst because that's all the beach it had," Wang said.

Renourishment of the beaches is also important to the environment and protection of residents.

The coast of Pinellas County is among the most developed along the Gulf Coast, Wang said. The beach is constructed with a sea wall that protects the buildings along the beach from waves and water damage.

"The beach provides a buffer for the waves to hit the beach and die down," Wang said. "It protects the water from pounding the roads."

Without the sand the sea wall can only do so much to protect the buildings and roads along the beach if a major storm were to hit.

"We build our wall, we build our house. At that time we had a beach. When the beach gains no problem, but when the beach moves landward it hits the sea wall," Wang said. "The sea wall may collapse."

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