tampabay.com

Don't worry: Sunset Beach's sand supposed to disappear

After renourishment, a county leader says, the beach could lose as much as 50 feet before it gains its natural form.

By KATHY SAUNDERS
Published September 10, 2006


TREASURE ISLAND - It's true: The brand new sand pumped on Sunset Beach is washing away rapidly. But it's supposed to.

Residents along the city's southern tip contacted the Times after noticing a drop of 1 to 3 feet of the beach in the past few days since a $3-million renourishment project was completed.

It's all part of the plan, said Nicole Elko, county coastal management coordinator. She predicted that the beach could lose as much as 50 feet before the natural wave action runs its course.

"We build the beach wider than we expect it to be - with a compensating slope," she said. "We pile the sand farther out than you want the shoreline to be."

The shoreline, she said, isn't being lost at sea - it's just being redistributed.

"It's simply being transferred out of the water and under the sand," she said. "It's a common occurrence."

So common that she has put an explanation on the county's Web site, www.pinellascounty.org.

Eventually, about two-thirds of the new sand deposited on the beach will be underwater, she said.

"Although it will appear that the beach is rapidly eroding after nourishment, this is the normal process in which the beach transforms from a constructed, designed beach to a natural beach form," the Web site says.

The recent renourishment of Sunset Beach was part of a project to restore sand on Sunshine Beach on the northern tip of Treasure Island and Upham Beach on St. Pete Beach. In some areas, as much as 100 feet of sand was pumped through tubes to the beach front to slow erosion. In all, about 300,000 cubic yards of sand was deposited along 2 miles of shoreline.

"The beach is an active environment," said Bob Minning, chairman of Treasure Island's beach stewardship committee, which closely monitored the two-month process.

Minning said Sunset Beach didn't get all of the sand originally promised because of a lack of funds. He said the new sand is about 70 percent of what residents had anticipated after noticeable erosion during the 2003 and 2004 hurricane seasons.

Still, he said, the county crews placed more sand on Sunset Beach than needed to restore the shore.

Proponents of beach renourishment say restoring the beaches provides a natural buffer, particularly during storms, and boosts the county's tourism economy.