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Barricades will mark Upham Beach shore

Officials are surprised to learn that the five barricades that will be buried to stop sand erosion will become visible after a year or two.

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 26, 2002

Officials are surprised to learn that the five barricades that will be buried to stop sand erosion will become visible after a year or two.

ST. PETE BEACH -- The T-shaped groins planned for Upham Beach will help keep the quickly eroding sand in place, but a sunset walk at Upham might never be the same.

The five groins, made of a heavy fabric and filled with sand to make them sturdy, will become visible to beachgoers, not buried beneath the sand and surf as some local officials had assumed. The groins also will change the erosion pattern at Upham, perhaps adding two years to the life span of each renourishment, but the beach still will need sand about every six years.

Some information about the groins St. Pete Beach has long lobbied for came as a surprise to elected officials, who listened last week to a presentation from Doug Mann, a coastal engineer with Boca Raton-based Coastal Planning and Engineering.

"The groins aren't going to be exposed, are they?" Mayor Ward Friszolowski asked during Mann's presentation.

"They will be exposed as the beach erodes, about one to one-and-a-half years after sand placement," Mann said.

The five groins are designed to trap sand that might normally drift to adjacent beaches. Part of the plan for adding the groins involves monitoring neighboring beaches, such as Pass-a-Grille, on a monthly basis to ensure the project does not harm them.

"We don't really know how well the groins will work and how they might affect the beach to the south," said commissioner Lolly Kreider, whose district includes Pass-a-Grille.

But Mann said the agencies funding the groins will not allow one beach to jeopardize another.

"The residents here have been enjoying a stable beach to the south for a long, long period of time, and we don't want that to change," Mann said. "We're not here to stabilize this one little 3,000 feet of beach to the detriment of any neighboring adjacent beaches."

Engineers had previously believed Pass-a-Grille benefits so much from erosion of Upham that limiting the movement of sand off Upham would harm the south beach. But now the state Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to help fund the placement of groins and other improvements for Upham.

Also as part of the project, a gap in a breakwater at the south end of Blind Pass will be closed.

The city of St. Pete Beach is now waiting for the DEP to issue permits for the project, which likely will be completed next year when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to renourish Upham Beach again.

The Corps is expected to deposit 350,000 cubic yards of sand. Mann said the groins are designed to hold in place only about half of that sand.

In 2000, the last time the Corps renourished Upham, it used the bottom of Blind Pass as the source of its sand. That source, however, proved problematic when contractors encountered oil in the pass where it had collected after a 1993 oil spill in Tampa Bay.

The renourishment turned into an oil cleanup, and the project took twice as long as expected as costs skyrocketed. The final bill for the 2000 renourishment was $6.3-million.

Next year the Corps will use Pass-a-Grille channel as the source of its sand.

Commissioner Peter Blank questioned Mann about the T-shaped groins and how they will change the character of Upham Beach. Mann said the groins will segment the beach, and walking the shoreline will involve walking around the textile groins.

Mann added that the greatest danger to the groins' success would be vandals who could harm the fabric groins.

Commissioner Jim Myers, who represents the district that includes Upham, said the groins are worthwhile.

"You've got to remember: If you don't have these, you won't have sand at all."

And Blank, recalling the bad condition Upham reached before the last renourishment, said, "you'll never see Upham Beach back to the seawall again."

"No," Mann replied, "I certainly hope not."

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