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Honeymoon Island beach renourishment project awaits approval

DUNEDIN — Pinellas County and state officials are ramping up for the second phase of a plan to renourish the beach and improve parking at Honeymoon Island.

Under the proposed plan, workers would pump 100,000 cubic yards of sand from Hurricane Pass, install three erosion-fighting devices on the beach, and reconfigure the crumbling north parking lot.

But first, planners are crossing their fingers that they secure permits and a high enough ranking among other statewide restoration projects to receive $5.63 million in funding from the 2012 Florida Legislature.

If all goes as planned, work would begin in late summer or early fall of next year.

"During the project, some areas of the park will be impacted and temporarily closed, including portions of the beach and areas of parking lots," said Florida Park Service spokeswoman Jessica K. Sims. "Honeymoon Island State Park staff will make every effort to minimize impacts to park visitors."

The project would continue restoration efforts completed in 2008. That $2 million undertaking involved replacing a rocky stretch of beach with 137,000 cubic yards of sand that was dredged and pumped from Hurricane Pass, an inlet to the south of Honeymoon Island.

Workers also installed a granite rock "T-groin" structure near the middle of the park's three lots to combat shore erosion.

A T-groin is a sort of jetty that breaks wave energy and prevents the tide from pulling sand back out into the water. The stem runs under the sand and holds the groins in place with three- to five-ton rocks. A break in the structure allows sand to continue to migrate naturally along the shoreline.

Honeymoon Island park manager Peter Krulder said some of the sand has moved, but "a good portion" is being held in place by the jetty. Storm events and natural forces since 2008, however, have continued to accelerate the amount of erosion north of the breakwater.

Under phase two, workers would:

•Install three more jetties to protect the beach fronting the park's two northernmost parking lots.

•Pump 100,000 more cubic yards of sand from a dredge sitting about 300 yards offshore in Hurricane Pass, adding another 150 feet of sand along a roughly half-mile stretch of beach.

•Repair the northernmost parking lot, which has begun crumbling away under constant assault from waves.

Krulder pointed this week to where waves have eaten into the walkway that fronts the north lot, forcing park rangers to close off 75 feet of parking spaces in September.

He said the problem dates back to the 1960s, when a developer who envisioned building homes and other projects on the island attempted to double its size by dumping fill material. The parking lots are built on top of that material, which is washed away during storms.

"The island wants to keep taking its natural shape," Krulder said, "so we're going to help it out a bit" by eliminating the north lot's western edge and allowing natural beach to exist there.

"We'll stop fighting Mother Nature, because it tends to focus energy on that point," said Andy Squires, coastal manager for Pinellas County's environment and infrastructure department, which will manage the project for the state.

The park wouldn't lose any parking spaces under the plan, however. In anticipation of the project, officials in September re-striped the lot and actually gained 22 spaces — for a total of 1,898 — by going from diagonal to straight spaces.

For now, Honeymoon Island's application is under review by the Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Representatives with the three groups will visit the park Jan. 10. After that, they will seek public comment, then decide whether to approve or deny the park's permit or gather more information.

If approved, local officials will have to hold tight while state lawmakers decide whether to fund the project.

Squires said consultant estimates place the cost of the three new T-groin structures at $3.25 million and the sand transfer at $2.38 million. If approved by lawmakers, the state of Florida would cover 100 percent of the cost, he said.

Krulder said Honeymoon Island attracted 1,134,509 visitors last year.

"Florida's beaches are important both from a biological standpoint and as a tourism draw," he said, "so the need to do beach renourishment is there."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153.

Honeymoon Island beach renourishment project awaits approval 12/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 12, 2011 9:59am]
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