TREASURE ISLAND — It will be at least another three weeks before city officials find out if they qualify for emergency funding to replace the beach that disappeared amid Tropical Storm Debby's winds and waves.
But even then, there is no guarantee the missing beach at both ends of the city will be replaced any time soon.
"There are no guarantees the money will be there," Andy Squires, Pinellas County's coastal manager, said Tuesday.
Squires has been meeting almost weekly with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for allocating federal dollars for beach renourishment nationally.
Normally, the county and state contribute local dollars to federally funded beach renourishment programs. But the cost to replace sand washed away by Debby would be totally paid for by the federal government, according to Squires.
"I have been told that if they determine the storm damage was severe enough, there is a good chance the money will be available," Squires said.
Just how much money will be needed is not known yet, but it could easily be in the millions.
According to a study prepared for the county by the Coastal Research Laboratory of the University of South Florida, Treasure Island alone lost 93,500 cubic yards of sand.
Sunset Beach was most severely eroded, losing an average of 21 feet of beach, including 18 feet of dunes.
In some places, the beach retreated over 40 feet as the Gulf of Mexico lapped at the base of seawalls, and dune walkover steps ended in the water instead of on sandy beach.
On the northern end of the island, Sunshine Beach also lost some of the sand that was renourished just two years ago.
Even the central portion of the city, which boasts the widest beach in the county, lost an average of 10 feet of beach.
The northern beach communities were in the midst of a regularly scheduled beach renourishment program when Debby hit. Much of the sand lost to Debby will be replaced in this program, which is expected to be completed in mid-November.
Madeira Beach and the Redingtons were not included in the program because their wide beaches are naturally replenished by tidal action.
Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach are scheduled for regular beach renourishment in 2013, but Squires stressed Tuesday that federal money has yet to be allocated for the program and federal and state sand dredging permits have yet to be approved.
With Congress facing a fiscal crisis early next year, the inability of individual Congress members to earmark funds for their districts, and ongoing pressure to reduce spending, he said future beach renourishment funding is uncertain.
Which makes Squires' effort to secure emergency funding now to repair the erosion caused by Debby even more critical for Treasure Island.
"The news is not good," Squires told the Treasure Island City Commission last week as he described his efforts to persuade the corps to qualify the city for emergency renourishment.
If the city passes that hurdle and gets funding approval, Squires said it will still take months to get permitting and schedule the work.
At best, replacement sand would not find its way to Treasure Island beaches until early 2013, he said.