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Project to rebuild beaches delayed

On Sand Key on Thursday, they were counting down the hours before a long anticipated beach renourishment project was to get under way.

The problem was, when Herb Somerson looked out the window of his beachfront condo, he saw no sign of new sand.

"We did see a fleet of equipment go by last week headed toward Egmont Key," Somerson said. "I guess that was some progress."

Thursday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the $22.8-million project, slated to begin today, was slightly delayed.

"The contractor is about a week behind schedule," said Jacquelyn Griffin, from the Corps' main office in Jacksonville. "He expects to move the pipes in on Saturday, some equipment in on Sunday and by Tuesday or Wednesday, he should be dredging sand" at Egmont Key.

That sand, some 2.4-million cubic yards of it, will be transported by barge north to Pinellas beaches from Clearwater's Sand Key on the north through North Redington Beach on the south. Along that 9-mile stretch, only Belleair Shore has opted out of the project.

Jim Terry, who is in charge of coastal management for the county, said there has been a scheduling change since a meeting of coastal residents in March.

The project is to begin next week on Belleair Beach instead of just south of Clearwater's Sand Key Park as planned. The state Department of Environmental Protection will not allow sand to be turned over on Sand Key Beach until the end of sea turtle nesting season, which begins in May.

Although currently there are no known turtle nests on Sand Key Beach, nests are expected, Terry said.

The first barges of sand will go where there is no beach at all: the shores of Belleair Beach. A staging area will be set up next week at the Howard Drive beach access, Terry said. From there, construction crews with Weeks Marine Inc. of Camden, N.J., will work north to Sand Key Park. Work on the first phase of the state, federal and local project is to be completed by July 15.

Then the barges will move south to shore up Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Redington Shores and North Redington Beach. The completion of the second and final phase is scheduled for the end of the year.

"We're disappointed the work is not starting here," said Dick Ruben, a Sand Key resident. "But at least we're still on line to get this thing done."

County Commissioner Sallie Parks said she understands the frustrations of beach residents who have been waiting for months for the project to begin.

"When you have a May 1 date and everyone knows about it, it's frustrating when you don't see them mobilizing," Parks said. "Everyone knows how eager we are to do this project."