Sand to barge in for safety's sake

Beachgoers should expect intrusions at Sunshine and Sunset beaches for a couple of months and then the same at Upham.

Published August 13, 2006

Starting Monday, portions of two Treasure Island beaches will be closed to the public as heavy machinery invades the shoreline in an effort to restore nearly 2 miles of eroded gulf coast shoreline.

The federally funded, $3-million project will provide more than 300,000 cubic yards of sand to the eroded shorelines of Sunshine and Sunset beaches.

Crews will try to provide pedestrian walkways on the sand, but some parts of the shoreline will be closed up to 2,000 feet at a time for safety reasons, said Andy Cummins, a project engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency shouldering most of the cost.

The primary goal is to produce a natural buffer between breaking waves and city infrastructure during a hurricane or other strong storm, said Pinellas County coastal management coordinator Nicole Elko.

Most erosion results from years of water moving through channels.

"A natural beach is constantly eroding and gaining sand," Elko said.

Hurricanes in 2004 chewed up parts of beaches in Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach, she said.

Sand will be gathered from Egmont Shoals, a vast sandbar 3 miles west of Fort De Soto Park.

The Atlantic, a cranelike machine, will dredge the shoals, scoop up the sand and place it in a sand barge, called a scow.

The scows will then be pushed by tugboat to the area being renourished. A hydraulic unloader will blast a mix of sand and water to the shoreline through submerged steel pipes.

Bulldozers will redistribute the sand, creating an even look.

After baking in the sun for a few days, the slurry mix will begin to dry and blend in with the existing sand, extending the width of the beach up to 100 feet in some spots.

Elko said doing this creates financial and environmental benefits.

More shoreline draws more people to the beach, boosting the area economy, and restored shorelines provide nesting areas for sea turtles and shore birds, she said.

"The more sand you can have between you and the ocean, the better," she said.

According the county's environmental management Web site, no reef or hard-bottom communities will be affected during the dredging.

Working around the clock for the next two months at a projected rate of 600 feet per day, crews will begin at Sunshine Beach, from 121st to 126th avenues, and continue south to Sunset Beach, from 90th to 80th avenues.

The project will continue with Upham Beach.

About 800 full loads of slurry will be transported from the shoals to the shoreline in the process.

The three-beach project is an extension of a similar county project that renourished 9 miles of sand on the island of Sand Key throughout last year.

Casey Cora can be reached at 727 580-1542 or at ccora@sptimes.com