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Storms gnaw away at sand on beaches

(ran Beach, West, South editions)

Yes, it could have been much worse.

Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan could have demolished property, claimed lives and sent the Gulf of Mexico raging into and over everything that dwells here.

One week after the last storm's strike, however, Sunset Beach homeowners have emerged largely unscathed, with their properties battered but still intact.

Not so for the beach that runs behind their homes.

Yards of sand have been licked away, leaving behind high surf, seaweed and sharp ledges where sea oats once stood.

The same thing happened at other gulf beaches, most notably Pass-a-Grille, but Sunset has an advantage: the gift of more sand.

Already slated to be replenished with 72,000 cubic yards of sand before the storms, the beach will benefit from an additional 50,000 cubic yards of sand pending final approval, said Nicole Elko, Pinellas County's coastal coordinator.

The extra sand will cost $1.2-million more than the original project, Elko said. She said the move will add 50-90 feet to the beach _ an amount equivalent to the last renourishment in 2000.

"That amount lasted four years," Elko said. "Our goal is to make this last another four years. It's really to provide storm protection."

Max Linn, 45, resident and owner of the Sunset Beach House Motel, said a series of calls he made to Rep. C.W. Bill Young's office and to city Commissioner Alan Bildz ramped up the effort to bring more sand to the beach.

Though the county came through, Linn said more needs to be done to permanently address beach erosion.

"What we're doing here does not work," he said. "We're simply putting a Band-Aid on a wound."

Meanwhile, his neighbors have remained haunted a little by what could have happened while dealing practically with what did.

Frances' rain found its way inside Tricia Taylor's elevated, two-story home through windows paned in wood and cracks in the sliding glass doors. It felled gutters and stripped portions of her sky-blue vinyl siding away. It left rust-colored stains on portions of her ceilings and walls.

Despite the damage to her home and peace of mind, she maintained the laissez-faire philosophy of a longtime beach resident.

"That attitude comes from being here and living in paradise," said the 50-year-old, who has lived on the gulf beaches her entire life. "The thought of our paradise being ruined and in demise is catastrophic, at best. It's positively revolting to think your homes and your memories and the happier times you've incurred can be destroyed."

Joyce Teetor, 76, echoed others' gratitude that none of the storms hit Tampa Bay directly. As workers dredged sand to the area just behind her home Tuesday, she said a distant second to losing her home has been losing access to her beloved beach.

The storm surge chewed up a lot of the sea oats standing between her elevated one-story and the water.

"Frances took the first portion out," she said. "Ivan finished it."

The waves they left behind created a ledge taller than she can navigate.

"I'm 4-7 and the dropoff was between five and six feet behind my house," she said Tuesday. "At least before the storms, I could get down there. Until they finish the beach, it's out of the question."

Yet, she is grateful for her place on the water.

"This is a little spot on my turf," she said. "I love it. The view is always changing."

Beach erosin, a natural cycle

Beach erosin is a problem in many coastal communities. Most causes are natural such as currents, winds, waves, tides, storms, earthquakes and movement of tectonic plates. Other causes are man-made structures that disrupt natural erosin.

Natural erosin

Vegetation removed increases runoff from rain and drainage

Water seepage and saturated ground become prone to mass soil movement

Wave action removes bluff and slide debris

Man-made erosin

Vegetation and habit removed for structure

Sediment supply blocked from replenishing beach

Sand erodes down to gravel and exposed rock

Currents take sediments and increase the erosin

Beach cycles

Nature's natural cycle for replenishing erosin is based on sand storage in dunes brought by current and wind. Beaches are typically, but not always, found with natural sand dunes.

Beaches grow and shrink with changes in climate cycles and weather.

During high tide, rough waves and storm surge attack the beach above its normal level.

After the storm, waves and wind gradually restore sand to the beach and dunes.

Sources: Department of Ecology; Practical Ocean Energy Management Systems Inc.; Bergen Org.

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