Pinellas hopes to move quickly on damaged beaches - FOX 13 News

Pinellas hopes to move quickly on damaged beaches

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Pinellas County beaches ripped apart by Tropical Storm Debby could be patched up in a matter of months, thanks to beach renourishment work that was underway before the storm hit.

It just so happened that one re-nourishment project – in the area around the Bellair Beach Resort – was already in place. Debby disrupted that initiative, but because heavy equipment is already out there, it should help speed things up if the cards fall correctly.  

On Wednesday, the county's Tourism Development Council heard the same numbers we reported last week: T.S. Debby caused about $20 million in damage to beaches in the Army Corps of Engineers' re-nourishment program.

That probably opens the door for federal disaster funding.

"My gut is we're going to get some [emergency federal] money," said Pinellas County coastal manager Andy Squires.

But other beaches that are not part of the federal program, like Ft. DeSoto's north section, are likely to face an uphill battle getting any help at all.

"This could be a fact of, well, now you have a new reality to live with at Ft DeSoto park," Squires said.

The same program already helping pay for the $35 million routine rebuilding of 8.6 miles of Sand Key can also provide disaster funds.

In fact, the presence of a contractor doing that routine work provides an incentive to add on repairs in St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island. 

"Keeping that contractor here is key, because mobilization costs for Sand Key were in the $2 million range," Squires explained.

"If they don't have to re-mobilize, you save that right off the top," Squires said.

The routine Sand Key job should be finished in October.  Squires said replacement sand on the two barrier islands to the south could take as little as three or four months.  If the request for emergency federal funding comes through Sunset Beach, then Upham Beach and Pass-A-Grille's beach would be largely repaired by the next winter tourism season.

However, the prospect for federal assistance for beaches not already in the Army Corps of Engineers program is not as certain.  In fact, they are not even included in the preliminary estimate of $20 million in beach damages. 

One example is the northern section of Ft. DeSoto.

"North beach in Ft. DeSoto got nailed. It just disintegrated," Squires told the Pinellas Tourism Development Council Wednesday. 

Madeira Beach's shoreline and Caladesi Island are also not in the federal system.  Squires said a request for federal emergency funding has been made, but he is not as optimistic about that request.

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