In about three weeks, work is expected to begin on a large-scale dune restoration project along the Indian Pass peninsula, which could last as long as five months.
That will be followed by about four months of work in the St. Joe Beach-Beacon Hill area doing much the same thing, recreating the front dunes that were devastated three years ago by Hurricane Michael.
County Engineer Clay Smallwood said because it is not a massive beach renourishment, the inconvenience of homeowners should be minimal and brief.
“That should only be in the work zone, as the contractor will rope off that little zone as the contractor moves down the beach,” he said, noting that while typical beach renourishment, which can involve as much as 1 million cubic yards of sand dredged from offshore, is designed to widen an existing beach, this project has a different goal in mind.
“They’re not doing that, they are re-creating that frontal dune, up at the dune line,” Smallwood said. “It’s a different goal. This is to protect the infrastructure from a five-year storm event.”
Homeowners, however, can expect noise, especially when their portion of the beach is being worked on.
“The beach will be an ‘active construction’ site that will take place seven days a week during daylight hours only,” reads the www.sjpbeach.com website that provides a wealth of documents pertaining to the work.
“Off-road dump-trucks, bulldozers, front-end loaders and other large pieces of equipment will be used in the construction of the beach project,” it reads “You will be able to tell there is an ‘active construction’ site in your area when the operations are near or seaward of your property.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding nearly all of the $9.3 million contract that Inland Construction and Engineering, out of Panama City, has secured to complete Phase 1 – encompassing the natural beaches of Indian Pass and St. Joe Beach – of FEMA’s planned Gulf County berm work.
Phase 2 has not yet been bid, and that will be for an engineered beach on the peninsula, north of Rish Park, that had previously been authorized for nourishment and maintenance by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Smallwood said an area on the west end of the Cape, near Salinas Park, has been designated by Inland as a staging area for trucking in about 300,000 cubic yards of white beach compatible sand from the Honeyville Sand Mine in Wewahitchka.
“His plan is to start at the western end and work east to Money Bayou and the boat ramp,” said Smallwood.
Because mobilization costs associated with pumping in dredged sand from offshore can ran as much as $1 million, Inland is opting to truck in the sand from Honeyville.
“It doesn’t always make sense to dredge from an offshore site,” Smallwood said. “It’s not close and convenient to get all the way with a fully loaded barge. It makes more sense from upland.
“We spent quite a bit of money doing a geotechnical investigation at the Honeyville pit,” he said.
Smallwood said the work, once completed, will resemble what has already been completed at Mexico Beach.
On the website, the county stresses that while the work will not prevent typical activities by homeowners and renters, and the beach will remain open, “some safety restrictions around the ‘active construction’ site will limit access to the general public."
“This will be a fast-moving project, so at this time we cannot predict where and when the crews will be working and if it will impact your property during a given week,” it reads.
The work will generally not require the taking down of dune walkovers. “It will depend whether or not the dune fronting your property has been eroded and will be restored during this project,” reads the website. “Whether you remove your dune walkover before the project begins is up to you.
“When the contractor encounters any structure that is not removed (dune walkover, gazebos, etc.) they will only place sand up to and around it. If you leave a structure intact and the contractor places sand around it, it may not be as much sand as your property would have received if you had removed it,” it notes.
As part of the dune restoration project, the replanting of the dunes will be undertaken shortly after construction. The contractor plans on four different native species of plants - sea oats, bitter/beach-panicum, beach elder, and gulf bluestem - selected after consulting with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.