Beachgoers at Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach had to be attentive while walking along the shoreline. A precarious 4-foot ledge separated gulf waters from high sand dunes up the beach.
That was before Hurricane Idalia’s surge washed out the vegetation that was holding the dunes together, according to Tyler Payne, the city’s mayor.
“It’s not just damaged,” Payne said. “They’ve just been totally devastated.”
Dunes are the first line of defense against intense storms. They protect coastal developments from surge and wind. In the case of Treasure Island, dunes shield public infrastructure, parks and private homes from encroaching waters.
Work started over the weekend, and each day, about 200 trucks have been pouring sand across Sunset Beach. For the price of $6 million, the equivalent of about 12 Olympic-size swimming pools of sand will be brought to the Treasure Island beach over the coming weeks.
Restoration has already wrapped up at the southern portion of Sunset Beach, according to Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters.
The county obtained all the temporary construction easements it needed on the beach’s south end, but holdouts on the north end mean the restoration project will skip nourishment on some properties.
Payne said while this dune project will help patch up beaches, the city is “still in a holding pattern with the Army Corps,” over its decision to require permanent easement agreements to begin work on what officials say is badly needed beach renourishment. The decision requires full participation from landowners and has divided residents across coastal Pinellas, some of whom are wary of signing over property rights.
“This was just something that we are able to do in the meantime, while we’re waiting to figure out the full resolution on the beach nourishment,” he said.
Much of the city’s troubles boil down to what’s known as an “erosion control line”: a line drawn in the sand that delineates the property boundary between public beach land and upland private property.
Before the city can start asking residents for these permanent easement signatures, the Florida Department of Environmental Protections must first demarcate Sunset Beach’s property lines.
“The Army Corps should be able to give us a list of the properties that need easements on the north side, but they still haven’t done that because of the issue down in Sunset Beach,” Payne said.
Treasure Island’s city manager asked for the list of properties requiring easements but is still waiting to hear back from the Army Corps, Payne said.
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Still, Payne said moving forward with the Corps is the best path forward for the city.
Payne said all the city can do is “cross our fingers that we can get 100% of the easements signed.”
If there are holdouts among homeowners with properties requiring permanent easements, Payne said he hopes the Corps will be flexible in its rule-making.
“If the Army Corps doesn’t change their position, then we’re going to have to figure it out on our own,” Payne said.
In the meantime, Pinellas County is moving ahead with its own project to help replace dunes washed away by Idalia.
Once restoration on Sunset Beach wraps up, Peters said the county will start work on Sunshine Beach, on the northern end of Treasure Island.
A second restoration crew started work at Pass-A-Grille Beach on Wednesday, Peters said. In October, work will start from Clearwater south through Belleair Beach.