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Officials dubious of beach proposal

Published Oct. 8, 2005

The vast expanse of soft, white sand at Sand Key Park is starting to look pretty attractive to a condominium association to the south.

In fact, the president of the Sand Key Civic Association is floating an idea for "interim" beach renourishment that would involve digging up 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the park and trucking it south at Pinellas County's expense.

The sand would protect the shoreline in the 1300-1400 block of Gulf Boulevard where a washed-out beach has left sea walls vulnerable.

"It seems that it may be feasible, so we're pursuing it," said David Tackney, president of the Tackney & Associates engineering firm, which is working with Al Lijewski, president of the civic association.

But they have some persuading to do.

"My gut reaction is that this is not a realistic or practical alternative," county administrator Fred Marquis said. "I think the (county) board would get lynched."

"It's very difficult to comment until I get a lot more details, but our regulatory branch would definitely have a whole lot of questions," said Lonnie Ryder of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"I've never heard of anybody wanting to try to do something like that," said DEP inspector and engineer Steve West. "That would be very unique."

Lijewski will meet with county officials this week to pitch the proposal, which would cost the county $300,000 to $400,000. He said the sand could be in place by next spring.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning restoration of 3 miles of coastline from Indian Rocks Beach to Clearwater Pass. A best-case timetable for the $9-million federal, state and county project has sand being placed along the shore in September 1996.

"If we do this to supplement what the Corps of Engineers is going to do anyway, it's cost-effective," Lijewski said.

The county could apply some of the $1-million it is scheduled to contribute to the corps project to the interim project, Lijewski said, in effect "pre-paying" part of the overall bill.

That could put a beach along about 2,000 feet of shore stretching about 80 feet out to the gulf in front of several of the South Beach condominium units, the Sand Key Club and the Gallery Restaurant and Lounge, according to Lijewski and engineer Tackney.

It likely wouldn't stay long; Lijewski and Tackney acknowledge 100,000 cubic yards would drift away at a rate of 30,000 to 40,000 a year. But it would provide "an immense insurance policy" for the condominiums until the bigger project fills in, Lijewski said.

And the effort would not disrupt the beach at Sand Key Park, where sand has been accumulating because of natural northward drift, he said.

Marquis isn't convinced. "The practical effect is to close Sand Key Park as a major public facility in order to provide sand for a private issue," he said. "I don't even think legally we could begin to approach that."

County Commissioner Sallie Parks also feared a "social impact" of taking sand from the park. But she plans to talk with Lijewski this week and has directed county staff to investigate.

"My natural inclination tells me it probably isn't doable," Parks said.