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Did tubes spare Upham Beach?

A year after T-shaped "groins'' arrive, Alberto tests them. Some sand, but not a "critical'' amount, is lost.

Published June 14, 2006

ST. PETE BEACH- Despite the installation of $1.6-million in T-groins, Upham Beach lost more than 20 feet of sand to a tropical storm that brushed by the coast Monday and Tuesday.

The loss of sand could have been much worse, according to Public Works Director Scott Graubard.

"It was about what we expected; it is not critical," Graubard said.

What would happen, even with the groin system, in a strong hurricane is unknown.

In the past, storms have virtually wiped out the sand at Upham Beach, while high tides have flowed over seawalls to flood condos along the strand.

Over the past 30 years, more than $10-million has been spent on renourishing Upham Beach. From 1975 to 2004, the U.S. Corps of Engineers renourished the beach six times with more than 1-million cubic yards of sand, only to see it immediately begin eroding.

That is because Upham Beach is near Blind Pass with currents that do not naturally allow the accumulation of sand.

In 2000, a 170-foot-deep beach existed in front of the Starlight Towers on Upham Beach. Within six months it had totally disappeared.

In 2004 Hurricane Frances - the first of four hurricanes to hit the area in two months - gobbled much of the sand that had been pumped on the beach just days before.

Repeated flooding in 2004 led residents to call for St. Pete Beach to support a Pinellas County proposal to install sand-saving "groins'' along the beach.

That plan was just the latest in a series that dated back to 1991.

The $1.6-million groin project was funded by both the county and the state in an attempt to stabilize Upham Beach, reduce the frequency of needed renourishment, and maintain enough beach to protect condo buildings from frequent flooding.

The project drew city support after the county agreed to monitor sand on beaches to the south.

Commissioners were concerned at the time that a groin system would block the natural flow of sand to those beaches.

T-shaped stacks of massive sandbags were buried along 2,000 feet of Upham Beach in 2005. The "geotubes" are sand-filled polyester tubes 6 feet in diameter that extend up to 400 feet from shore. Two-hundred-foot sections form a "T" on a line parallel to the coastline.

The top of each T acts as a breakwater and reduces the power of the waves that previously pushed the beach sand south. The perpendicular part of the groin acts as a jetty and catches sand, creating a scalloped shoreline.

The tubes have a special covering to guard them from sun and other damage. They are expected to last about 10 years - barring other damage, that is.

Last year, vandals slashed holes in four of six geotubes, ruining the structures and delaying completion of the project.

The now-completed groin system is designed to hold on to a 30- to 40-foot shoreline that used to wash away about every 18 months.

Tropical Storm Alberto is the first in what is sure to be a series of nature's tests this year.

City officials said Tuesday they would not know exactly how much of Upham Beach is left from this first test until after the midday high tide recedes.

[Last modified June 14, 2006, 07:42:47]

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