Tropical Storm Debby not only damaged Pinellas beaches by an estimated $25 million, she also threatens the current $34 million renourishment of Sand Key.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that there's going to be enough sand in our borrow area to fill the whole project to the south end," county coastal manager Andy Squires said. "So there's a chance we could run short of sand."
He said rebuilding Sand Key is consuming more sand than expected because T.S. Debby increased the areas to be filled.
The Army Corps of Engineers says emergency repairs to beaches outside the current project area will not be possible until 2013 or later. Right after the storm, the goal was to piggyback the emergency work onto the Sand Key project to save money.
But Jackie Keiser, the Corps' dredging program manager, said there is neither enough money nor sand to pursue that option.
Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and Lee counties all requested disaster relief for beach repairs. Keiser said it will take the rest of the year to review those requests, then the Corps will have to determine if money is available through the federal Flood Control and Coastal Emergency fund.
None of this is good news for tourism-centric beach towns.
"This is our economic life," said North Redington Beach mayor Bill Queen. His town is the last to be renourished in the current project, and therefore is at the most risk if the sand runs out early.
"This beach, this sand, is our economic life for all these communities up and down Pinellas County. We've got to have that sand here," Queen said.
Treasure Island's Sunset Beach is among the most-seriously eroded by T.S. Debby. Treasure Island is also the only beach community with $500,000 set aside for emergency beach repairs. It was counting on federal disaster relief.
"We go back and re-visit the city-funded emergency," mayor Bob Minning said, adding he has placed the issue on the city commission's next meeting agenda.
Summer wave action since T.S. Debby has brought some sand back to the beaches, but Minning worries that cycle will soon reverse.
"We're now at that point in the cycle where we're going to get the winter storms and the winter wave actions, which is the erosive part of the cycle," he said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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