CLEARWATER — Hoteliers want to bring back the beach along Clearwater Pass, a development sure to cheer spring breakers and sun worshippers.
But the proposed, privately funded beach replenishment project is raising concerns that more sand will lure swimmers into dangerous currents that have claimed two lives this year.
A decade ago, a good-sized beach stretched along the north bank of Clearwater Pass, a boat channel between Clearwater Beach and Sand Key that connects the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway. But currents, storms and waves have pushed most of that sand eastward under the Sand Key bridge and into the channel.
Shephard's Beach Resort and the Quality Hotel Beach Resort want to spend about $800,000 for coastal engineers to install groins on their properties to tame the currents and restore the beach. Rocks and tubes filled with sand will be employed to trap sand swept along by the current.
The plan was presented to the City Council last week, although no city money or city permits are required. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pinellas County and the state Department of Environmental Protection all have to sign off on the project, a process that could take up to two years, said Kevin Bodge, a coastal engineer working for the hotels.
The City Council unanimously gave its support to the project at Thursday's meeting, though Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said he was concerned that restoring the beach could increase the likelihood of tragedy.
"The current there is vicious … At high and low tides, it's like a river," Gibson said.
Bill Morris, the city Marine and Aviation Department director, said the city can post signs warning swimmers of the danger.
The project has been kicked around since the late 1990s, Morris said. Originally, the state proposed the restoration. In 2006, many of the beach hoteliers came close to financing it, but the economy soured.
Other hotels or property owners along the pass support the project and may contribute financially to expand it, Morris said.
Ocean Properties, a global hotel developer, and JMC Communities, a St. Petersburg-based developer, own the large Marquesas site next to the Sand Key Bridge. They recently announced plans to build a condo and hotel project on the site and were enthusiastic about restoring a beach to their property, although no final decision has been made, Morris said.
Mayor George Cretekos wondered if instead of piecemeal restoration projects, the beach along the entire pass could be fixed.
Any such effort would cost more than $10 million, probably around $14 million because of all of the infrastructure required, Morris said.
Public beach access to Shephard's and Quality properties is currently underwater, he said.
Paul Andrews, general manager for Shephard's, said the hotel will have a 20-foot wide public access corridor on the eastern side of the resort.
"We're in the beach business and they're willing to pay for everything. I totally support it," said City Council member Jay Polglaze.
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago