Initially left out of plans to restore Pinellas County's beaches, St. Pete Beach may get another shot at renewal.
State lawmakers have set aside $3.7 million in next year's budget for Pinellas' beaches, money for tons of sand to replace what was lost during last year's Tropical Storm Debby. Two million has been earmarked for Treasure Island, where the Army Corps of Engineers already has signed off on a beach restoration project that should begin in early fall. But the remainder could go to St. Pete Beach if the Corps decides the beaches there are deserving.
In April, the Corps approved more than $8 million in federal emergency funding and general construction dollars for Treasure Island's beaches. State lawmakers have come up with another $2 million, and the county is prepared to match that. The town's mayor, Bob Minning, who had lobbied hard for the money, called it a "godsend."
At the time, Corps officials decided St. Pete Beach, and the entirety of the Long Key barrier island, wouldn't qualify for emergency funding. Not enough sand had been lost to make a dredging and pumping project worthwhile.
"We were very disappointed," said Steve Hallock, St. Pete Beach's public services director. According to a University of South Florida report, he said, "we actually lost more sand than Treasure Island."
Hallock is right. But Long Key is bigger than Treasure Island, and with more sand to lose.
A study of the county's beaches by USF researchers found that Treasure Island lost 93,500 cubic yards of sand following Tropical Storm Debby. Long Key, which includes both Pass-a-Grille and Upham beaches, lost a total of 113,400 cubic yards. Much of it came from Pass-a-Grille beach.
Asked to reconsider giving federal money to Pass-a-Grille and Upham, Corps officials are taking another look at the project, which would cost about $6 million, according to Pinellas County Coastal Manager Andy Squires. Of that, the state has already agreed to pay $1.7 million.
"We're definitely in need of beach nourishment," Hallock said.
St. Pete Beach, like other Pinellas beach towns, has had a record year for tourism, and visitors were apparently undaunted by a smaller beach and closer shoreline. But Hallock said he heard comments from people who noticed the post-Debby beach isn't what it used to be, and he's concerned that another bad storm could eat away at the dunes that protect nearby homes.
The last time Pass-a-Grille got more sand was in 2004. Sand was added to Upham beach in 2010, as well as two long yellow plastic tubes, called t-groins, that are structural barriers to erosion. The t-groins have survived vandalism and summer storms, but the county's fastest eroding beach is still losing sand, enough to leave the yellow tubes exposed.
St. Pete Beach officials have asked the county to pay for rock structures in lieu of the t-groins, but their request has been pushed off to next year when they might get state funding.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.