Beaches — redux
I see that the subject of our beaches is hot again, if not hot enough for the Commission to budget any money for them. My colleague in these pages has recently written forcefully on them. Almost long ago I wrote the following rather serious piece on the topic. I trust that it is still useful material. We published back then (‘On the beach’ Peter O’Connor, LBK NEWS 12/24/10):
“What is our Town, Longboat Key?
Basically it is a utility reseller, a provider of public safety services, a minor public works provider, a manipulator of planning and its tool, zoning.
The big deal over the past twenty years or so has been beaches. This is not surprising for a barrier island. We are a dredger and mover of sand, a small builder of groins and jetties, a maintainer of beaches. We don’t really do much on our beaches; we don’t even have lifeguards. In a word we try with some success to overcome nature.
Now this is not all bad; in fact it’s not bad at all. The trick is to get someone to pay for it. And we have. Will we again, probably. When and how much are the questions. When will we have to do it again is another matter. This is an expensive endeavor.
I’m likely a believer. I’ve even been on a dredge, been to sea on a dredge, operated a bulldozer, surveyed a beach. I get it.
There are serious people abroad, even here on our private enclave, who think there might be other ways to accomplish all this. Might the rest of us listen, and maybe act?
We in our Town spend not only a lot of money on this program; we spend enormous amounts of time at this. One might say it consumes us. It surely does of late. The Town is assisted in all this not only by able staff, but also by fine professionals (consultants), and from time to time the dredging and contracting industries. This is a complex dance. Some might say this dance could be orchestrated better. I’m not so sure, but I am certainly willing to listen.
What we all should know is that coastal engineering is indeed a serious discipline.
Because of Florida’s unique geography, topography, and oceanography the discipline has developed and matured here. The University of Florida, has grown into a leader in the field. Many of the practitioners active in this State are graduates of this engineering program. I have met, and respect, some of them. I wanted that to be clear. We should also know that these are highly regulated endeavors. At the State level, in Florida, that means the Department of Environmental Protection. These folks are serious professionals, in my experience. At the Federal level this means the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acting in its civil works role. This effort is headed for us by the Commander of the Jacksonville District, an active duty Corps of
Engineers Colonel. These folks, military and civilian alike, are also serious professionals. I mention the players just to give you a feel for the levels of expertise.
Town staff interacts on this stage on our behalf.
And so on a December afternoon the interested players assembled in a workshop to listen. There were some visitors here to educate, some locals here to opine and plead some maybe new ideas. I couldn’t miss this. I hoped for an open dialogue.
The crowd was decent, although it turned out mostly silent. The Town Manager opened by saying that we plan to use the most innovative methodologies in this coming project and then introduced the two speakers on topic for the afternoon.
• Dr. Bob Dean, Professor Emeritus, Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering, University of Florida
• Paden Woodruff, Environmental Administrator of Beach Management Program, Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Woodruff led off; his topic was innovative technologies in the Florida experience.
He said first that the Department is always looking for innovative technologies. He notes that if we don’t know how something will perform – it is a new technology. Florida statutes require 3 year tests of these. He recounted the history of programs to test culminating in 1989 requirements that technologies be cost effective; demonstrate longevity; be based on adequate scientific, engineering, and design theory. State demands they look at monitoring, personnel qualifications, etc. Well defined test criteria is required. Woodruff cites several examples; one example of failure was the “net groin” (like a snow fenc). He discusses several other examples of innovative technologies. I didn’t hear any enthusiasm for those mentioned. Woodruff seemed to say it all when he said, “There is no effective quick-fix. You have to add sand to the system.”
Woodruff goes a bit off topic to suggest that LBK pursue the obtaining of federal funds. He notes the Sarasota County portion of our key is already a 4.5 mile federal project. State cost share, he says, is 21% – pursue more. He talks of the relationship between beach access and funding, again thinks we could do more. Paden notes, on his own, that the pursuit of a federal project can take 12 years. Why not start now, maybe for our next nourishment project. I’m pleasantly surprised. Here a State official recommends – Federal Funds, Increased Access, Regionalization. These are all areas to be considered seriously.
After this discussion of potential alternatives Dr. Bob Dean spoke on his experience, much of it specific to LBK. Now Dean is a well known, respected academic and practitioner. He notes that he teaches students to study beach relationships. He teaches the history in Florida in response to technology. He says, for our local interests that inlets are a “sink” of sand. He notes too that the effect of sea level rise on beaches is actually decelerating.
In Bob Dean’s experience some technology innovations tried:
‘Heavy Sand’ – did not add value – 1860s
Near Shore Breakwaters – 1970s
Artificial Seaweed – 1970s
Beach Drains, Martin County – 1980s, Broward County – 2009,2010
Offshore Breakwaters, Palm Beach – actually caused erosion.
Bob mentions net sediment transfer ( sand movement) the benefits of terminal structures at passes. Says he has not analyzed Sand Grabber.
Dr. Dean summarizes his current impressions of our LBK beach nourishment. He says we have 180 foot beach width surviving at mid-key. He says the Town has done a good job of placing an amount of sand to replace losses during a long period of neglect. He notes the continuing need for maintenance.
Dean notes that the State of Florida has been effective in revitalizing beaches.
He says terminal structures are effective. He says that his experience with innovative technologies has not been favorable. We need, he says, work at north end of LBK – a terminal structure.
Dean finishes, “The Longboat Key Beach Management Program is very much on target.” Two public members were heard. They spoke of a specific technology, and of comparative project costs for varying time frames. Reaction from the Commission was polite, but cool.
One Commissioner spoke of his “demonstrated lack of confidence.” He suggests a
Second Opinion. He questions the Town’s consultant, Coastal Planning and Engineering. Even if this second opinion were to cost 6 months, he would favor it. Good point. I heard no enthusiasm for this course of action.Town Manager closes the discussion by asking what is to be placed before the voters. He is clearly ‘on a role ‘ now with a successful meeting behind him. There follows a long discussion (like this column) of the timing of the Port Dolphin Project to bring liquefied natural gas to Port Manatee. Beau Suthard, the CP&E geologist gives a detailed review of the possible and in his view likely schedule. From the reaction of the Commission he was convincing.
Just to put this in some perspective, The Corps of Engineers hopes to receive $63M next year to dredge the lower reaches of the Mississippi River around New Orleans and Baton Rouge. This is $6.3M more than this year, FY2010. Actual costs for this year are to be over $110M according to the Corps. The excess over budget comes from diversion of funds from other projects around the Country. (WSJ 12/14/10). The river channels are normally maintained to a depth of 45 feet, with width of 500 to 750 feet for the lower river’s ports and channels.
It is noteworthy that 60% of all agricultural exports from the United States pass through here. Our LBK project, while huge for us, at 11 miles of beach nourishment with dredged sand for from $40M to $45M over 8 years, would likely be in stiff competition for funds and resources should we not continue to go it alone.
Next act, in January when Town Commission takes up the timing for and wording of the necessary bond referendum/referenda to pay for all this. This will be interesting. It looks like the preliminary decisions have been made.