ST. PETE BEACH — City officials later this month will recommend a permanent design for temporary structures that slow sand erosion from Upham Beach.
The final decision will be up to Pinellas County.
The structures, called temporary groins or T-groins, were installed in 2005 in an effort to halt or significantly slow sand erosion on Upham Beach, just south of Blind Pass.
"We have a tested solution out there right now. It is definitely working," William Davis, director of the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management, told city commissioners recently.
The University of South Florida monitored the performance of the temporary structures and concluded the beach had retained 38 percent more sand than it did after previous renourishment projects.
The county's primary goal is to double the length of time between major beach renourishment projects at Upham Beach.
Other goals include storm protection, maintaining a minimum 40-foot wide beach at maximum erosion, stabilizing the T-groin structures, avoiding erosion of beaches to the south, minimizing the length of time for obtaining state and federal permits and minimizing impacts to surfers and beachgoers.
Currently, the beach sand is replaced every three years.
Four different T-groin designs will be reviewed by the city's Beach Stewardship Committee on Monday. That group's recommendation will be discussed in a joint meeting with the City Commission on Nov. 30.
Davis said the county will "consider" the city's preference when it decides in December on the final design.
Of the four options, Davis suggested the city consider two — one that would eliminate one of the current five T-groins to provide greater wave action to improve surfing opportunities in the center of Upham Beach, and the second that would result in a wider beach over a longer period of time.
Another option — installing an artificial reef just off the shoreline — would cost too much, he said.
The cost of the option eliminating one T-groin was put at $4 million. The wider beach option would cost $5 million. The option including the artificial reef was set at $8 million. Estimates could vary from the actual costs by several million dollars, according to county officials.
"The county is going to be sensitive to wishes of the city, but a million to million-and-a half savings can become a player in this decision. Right now the budget is something we are all keeping our eye on," Davis said.
The county estimates that permanent T-groins will increase the time span between renourishment projects at Upham Beach to six years. That represents a $31 million savings, according to Tom Pierro, a coastal engineer working with Davis' department.
The cost of renourishment is borne by the federal, state and county governments. Since the mid 1970s, 1.7 million cubic yards of sand have been pumped onto Upham Beach, Pierro said.
The county expects to begin seeking permits in January for the next beach renourishment project, which is scheduled for May or June 2010. Repairs to two of the five temporary T-groins will be performed at that time.
Permanent T-groins would not be installed until December 2012 or January 2013.
"This will get us a permanent fix once and for all for the beach," Davis said.