CLEARWATER — While Pinellas beaches continually rank among the best in America, they need help to stay that way.
The county has landed $30 million to complete renourishment projects at three popular beaches.
The funding for the Pinellas County Shore Protection Project will go toward about 10.5 miles of work at Sand Key, Upham Beach and Treasure Island. The federal projects are administered by the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Beach renourishment is an ongoing effort to keep up with constant erosion, said Mark Ray, district spokesman for the corps.
"The overall Pinellas County project has a 37-year lifespan," Ray said. "The new funding will cover this particular iteration of the project."
Construction is expected to start in the fall and should take six to eight months, said Kelli Levy, director of environmental management in Pinellas County.
The costs are split three ways. The corps picks up 60 percent, while the Florida Department of Environmental Protection covers 20 percent. Pinellas will pay the remaining 20 percent from a portion of tourist development taxes set aside each year for beach renourishment.
The corps administers the work, and Pinellas assists with permitting, providing easements and staging areas, funding and local management for the project, the county said.
"The Pinellas County beach nourishment program has been a model partnership among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state, county and local communities for more than 40 years," Janet Long, Pinellas County Commission chairwoman, said in a news release.
Extra money was provided this year to cover the damage caused by the pounding waves from Hurricane Hermine in 2016, Levy said. The erosion from Hermine was the worst in almost a decade, according to county beach experts.
Beach renourishment involves dredging sand from the Gulf of Mexico and pumping it onto eroding beaches through flexible pipelines. The new sand is then distributed by bulldozers to ensure that beaches are restored to at least a 40-foot width.
Pinellas County beaches were named the Best Restored Beach by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association in 2006.
The renourishment project not only restores the beaches, keeping them attractive to tourists, but also helps to protect upland properties from storms.
"With rising sea levels, increasing storm surges, and erosion caused by hurricanes like Hermine, the importance of nourishment projects is urgent to protect our economy, infrastructure and coastal properties," U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist said in a news release.
There are other areas in need of renourishment within the 22 miles the corps is authorized to work on, Levy said, but property owners have declined to grant easements.
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"There are some gaps in Sand Key that we'll be missing," Levy said. "We're hoping property owners will provide them by the June 2 deadline so that we can cover the beach the way we need to."
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