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Saving a vanishing beach

On the narrow strip sand along the Courtney Campbell Parkway known as Ben T. Davis Beach, there are more cigarette butts than shells. Instead of seaweed washing ashore, shoes cling to the eroding beachside. One reason there seems to be more litter on Ben T. Davis Beach than anything else is that the beach is half the size it was 28 years ago when it was built.

"It's different all the time," Gale Fairbanks said. "Some days it (the water) is deep, then the next day there are rocks so it has to be eroding."

According to Ross Ferlita, Tampa Parks Director, the western section of the beach has been disappearing at an alarming rate since Hurricane Elena ravaged the area in 1985. "It's a problem that has occurred over the years," he said. "But it has been accelerated by violent storms."

To help curb the erosion, about 1,500 tons of sand will be spread with tractors during the next month, city officials said.

But it's only a temporary solution.

Wave action along Tampa's municipal beach has washed more and more sand into the bay, said Joel Jackson, manager of special services in the city's parks department. Much of the sand also is blown into the parking lot by wind.

To help curb the erosion permanently, the city has asked the federal government to conduct a $250,000 study to find the most efficient way to solve the problem there as well as along 60 miles of beach along Tampa Bay.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting the Tampa Bay Coastal Areas study, began gathering information on the beaches in April. The engineers will analyze how best to handle the erosion along Ben T. Davis Beach and the flooding along coastal Tampa, said Alberto Gonzalez, study manager for the federal government.

Gonzalez said it's too early to speculate about long-term solutions for Ben T. Davis Beach. The first part of the study will be completed in April 1992, and work will begin on how to solve the erosion problem.

In the meantime, 1,500 tons of sand costing $9,480 will replace some of the lost beach, Jackson said.

Ferlita said the only inconvenience will be along small segments of the beach where the crews will be working.

The beach that was named for the man who built the causeway and converted the strip of sand to a city park in 1963 still attracts people, whether for a tan or a frolic in the water.

The new sand can only help. Mary Horne of Tampa couldn't even recognize the beach after being away for two years.

"I was wondering what happened to the other side of the beach," Horne said. "The lifeguard tower is now in the middle of the water."