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Too many storms, not enough sand

In Dennis' wake, the state tries to speed up the process to repair beaches and beachfront property.

Associated Press
Published July 21, 2005

DESTIN - As state environmental Secretary Colleen Castille flew over St. George Island on Wednesday, she stared in amazement at what Hurricane Dennis left behind - or rather, didn't.

"Oh, my God, look at that!" she said. "There's no dune whatsoever. All that standing water - that's not supposed to be there."

Beside her, Michael Barnett, who heads the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, added, "They got whacked."

Castille toured the Gulf of Mexico coastline by air from Wakulla County south of Tallahassee to Destin, areas affected by Dennis when it slammed ashore with 120 mph winds on July 10.

Castille also stopped in Okaloosa and Gulf counties to let officials there know that the state is trying to speed up the process to repair beaches and beachfront properties while seeking long-term solutions to coastal erosion.

In addition to trying to make the state permitting process easier so that residents can shore up pilings under homes, repair or replace walkways over dunes and return sand to beaches, Castille said she is calling members of Congress to push for emergency authorization to expand and accelerate beach replenishment projects.

Her hope is that the usual two-year planning and approval process for replenishment projects can be shortened to less than nine months.

For areas not eligible for federal projects, Gov. Jeb Bush plans to set aside state money in next year's budget. Bush will also consider seeking money for beach projects during a special legislative session likely to be called this fall to address proposed changes to the Medicaid program, Castille said.

"Unquestionably, there's damage in every coastal county in the Panhandle," Barnett said.

In Walton County, waves and storm surge washed away so much sand that the foundations of condominiums and homes hang over the edges of cliffs about 20 feet above the beach, a tough problem to fix.

Many communities want to "scrape" the beaches, which involves pushing sand from the beach back to what remains of the dunes. But scraping can remove the hump where waves break, and the state fears it could worsen erosion problems, allowing the ocean to quickly wash away new dunes.

The only other solution is to bring in sand that is darker than the existing sugarlike sand, said Walton County growth management director Pat Blackshear.

"Something has to be done. The beach is so critically eroded. It's worse than I've ever seen in my lifetime," Blackshear said. "They have to do something to shore up these structures."

The state has approved limited scraping in some areas under strict conditions to ensure that beach levels are not brought too low. Scraping also can't begin until after an area is checked to ensure that sea turtles haven't laid eggs there. Castille noted that much of the beach recovery work that began after Hurricane Ivan hit 10 months earlier was lost.

"It's Mother Nature's version of shock and awe," she said.

[Last modified July 21, 2005, 00:55:05]

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