ST. PETE BEACH — Concerns about "rough winter weather" have temporarily halted construction of permanent rock groins along Upham Beach.
The contractor, Weeks Marine, which recently halted work on the beach, will review whether or not it can resume the project by early February.
John Bishop, Pinellas County’s coastal management coordinator, said the rougher weather was not totally unexpected.
"The contractor was optimistic they could get the project done before the worst of the winter season. That turned out not to be the case," Bishop said. "Winter is not the best time to be working in the Gulf of Mexico."
Bishop explained that rock for the groins is being towed to the area by barge from Mississippi, which can be difficult during storms.
Originally, the $9.5-million project, paid for by local Tourist Development Tax funds and a state grant, was expected to be completed by February. Now, because of the delay, that completion date has been extended, possibly by as much as four months.
Half the project had been completed prior to the work stoppage.
During the project suspension, equipment and materials will be enclosed within a fenced staging area on the site.
Meanwhile, the public and residents of the upland Silver Sands, Starlight Towers, Envoy Point and Caprice of St. Pete Beach condominiums will be allowed to use other areas of the beach. When construction resumes, public access will be restricted primarily only from the northern portion of the beach.
Upham Beach is at the northern end of the city at the mouth of the Blind Pass Inlet that separates St. Pete Beach from Treasure Island.
Historically, storm tides and naturally drifting sand resulted in extensive erosion along much of Upham Beach, often eliminating portions of the beach completely as the Gulf lapped seawalls.
Replenishment along Upham Beach began in 1975 when some 75,000 cubic yards of sand was dredged from Blind Pass. Since then, the beach has been renourished at roughly three-year intervals at a cost of millions of dollars.
Despite this repeated renourishment, the sandy beach regularly disappeared within just a few years.
Pinellas County, which shares the cost of beach renourishment with the state, installed temporary sand-filled, T-shaped geotube groins in 2005 in hopes they would reduce Upham Beach’s shoreline erosion.
That effort was largely successful, according to a 2009 University of South Florida study that showed the temporary groins had significantly reduced erosion rates along Upham Beach without negatively affecting other city beaches to the south.
The permanent groin system now under construction is expected to maintain at least a 40-foot-wide beach in front of seawalls.
Officials say this will protect upland structures from storm-caused surges, significantly slow beach erosion, and cut in half the frequency of needed beach renourishment.
The project calls for the five existing sand-filled geotubes to be replaced with four rock T-groins, beginning on the south side of the beach in front of the Silver Sands.
After the groins are installed, the beach will be renourished and filled in with additional sand pumped from the Gulf of Mexico.