Tropical Storm Debby has caused the worst beach erosion in a decade, Pinellas authorities said Tuesday, adding that it's not clear where the money will come from to replace the vanished shores.
"It's very widespread," said Pinellas County coastal engineer Andy Squires. "All those beaches from Pass-a-Grille to Treasure Island to all the beaches on Sand Key -- they're all impacted severely by erosion."
Squires also used the term "severe erosion" in a preliminary damage report submitted to state emergency managers. The report documents losses of 20 or more feet of sand in some locations -- erosions that impact already-diminished beaches more than relatively wide beaches.
Squires said replacing the sand will easily cost millions of dollars.
"Even a short beach usually costs millions," he said.
Treasure Island's Sunset Beach and Sunshine Beach are short beaches. Sunset in particular was already seriously eroded.
"The beach is gone," Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning pointed out. "It's been pretty close to catastrophic, if not catastrophic."
Sunset Beach is on the southern tip of the island community, while Sunshine Beach is on the northern tip, immediately south of the John's Pass Bridge.
Regarding Sunshine Beach, the mayor said "We had a full renourishment in 2010. Now that's just two years ago. It provided us over a hundred feet of beach, and it's gone."
Chats with beach visitors reveal potential consequences of the erosion. Californian Teresa Creamer's family owns a condominium that they rent out between personal uses.
"Over at our condo there's absolutely no beach," Creamer said. "It's eroded, it's probably a four or five foot drop just to get to the beach, and the water's all the way up to our parking lot."
Would her interest in owning property in Pinellas be change if the beach is not replaced?
"It will definitely affect it," she responded without hesitation. Several people who visit the county regularly expressed similar opinions.
Squires said the entire Pinellas shoreline was completely surveyed in recent weeks, so once the storm passes, a new survey will clearly define how much sand was swept away in TS Debbie's storm surge.
He said it is too soon to know where sand replacement dollars might come from, since the traditional federal and state sources have been modified or eliminated.
"Funds are scarce everywhere, so it remains to be seen how much and where those funds will come from," Squires said.
Treasure Island's mayor is worried.
"It's an immediate problem. We don't have any inkling of federal support, which comprises 60 percent of our renourishment monies," Minning said.
Last year, Pinellas County commissioners briefly (and without taking any action) discussed replacing federal and state funding with tourism "bed tax" dollars now committed to debt on baseball stadiums in St. Petersburg, Dunedin and Clearwater. Those bonds will not be paid off until 2015 or 2016.
"We don't have three or four years," Minning said. "As soon as this storm dies down, we need to get busy and get these beaches renourished."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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