TREASURE ISLAND — Dredging pipes are spewing sand from the gulf onto the city's highly eroded Sunshine Beach, just south of John's Pass.
In some areas, the 200-foot-wide beach created by a 2006 renourishment project is virtually gone. Waves now lap within 20 feet of gulffront condominiums.
A series of storms last winter were the "final straw," said City Manager Reid Silverboard. "I don't recall it ever being quite this bad."
Waves devoured dunes, lifted dune walkovers and washed away stairs that briefly led into the surf instead of to a sandy beach.
"A lot of the beach is all gone. The erosion was so bad on Sunshine Beach that we had to close several dune crossovers. It was not safe," Silverboard said.
Over the next few weeks, new sand will restore Sunshine Beach to a width of 175 to 200 feet between 127th and 120th avenues.
Similar erosion on Sunset Beach to the south will be renourished next.
The new sand there will be concentrated from 88th to 77th avenues, where storms eroded the beach virtually to the dune lines.
Silverboard said so little beach is left in one 500-foot section that there is not enough room for city vehicles to patrol the beach.
"We are very thankful that the work has finally started," Silverboard said.
A hydraulic dredge is at an ebb tide shoal a quarter of a mile outside John's Pass, where it sucks up a mix of sand and water and delivers it to the beach through an underwater pipe.
As the water drains back into the gulf, tractors spread and smooth the new sand. The dredging pipe is moved to a new site every few hours.
The process renourishes beaches at a rate of about 100 feet a day, according to Andy Squires, coastal manager for Pinellas County.
"People need to stay away and be tolerant," Squires said. "Yes, it is noisy, but we will move down the beach pretty quickly."
Renourishment of Upham Beach on the northern tip of St. Pete Beach will begin in October. Sand dredged from Blind Pass will build up about 4,000 feet of beach from 71st Avenue, south to 58th Avenue.
Once the new beach is formed at Upham, the county plans to replace two damaged groins installed several years ago as a test project to prevent extensive erosion.
Indiana-based Southwind Construction Corp. is conducting renourishment work on Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach under a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract.
The $5.2 million project, which began on Aug. 4, will add 425,000 cubic yards of sand to three beaches on Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach.
Work was scheduled to begin late last year, but it was delayed in the permitting process, which is regulated by the Corps of Engineers and the state.
In renourishment projects, the federal government bears 60 percent of the cost, and the state and county each bear 20 percent.
Next year, renourishment is scheduled for nearly 9 miles of the county's northern beaches.
Pass-a-Grille in St. Pete Beach is scheduled to be renourished in 2013, Squires said.
Pinellas County, which certifies qualifying beaches, recently told Belleair Beach that a 1,276-foot section south of Morgan Park lacks the required 24 public parking spaces within a quarter of a mile.
Mayor Lynn Rives said recently that beachfront condominium associations are not willing to give up any parking spaces, nor are area residents willing to consider on-street parking.
One option under consideration is charging beachfront property owners or assessing all property owners for the $180,000 cost of renourishing that section.
Three-quarters of a mile in the northern part of the city does have enough parking and will be renourished, Rives said.