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Four months after Matthew, beach repair near completion

Photo: Conn Beach dunes and stairs were still under repair, but beach was crowded on Presidents Day

While sun worshippers packed Vero’s Conn Beach this week, workers rushed to finish repairs to the boardwalk and dune before next Tuesday’s start of the turtle nesting season.

The sand that Hurricane Matthew washed out from under the boardwalk and road last November has now all been replaced, but with only days to go until the turtle nesting deadline halts all work on beaches, more remained to be done.

The $319,375 Conn Beach project covers approximately 400 feet of shoreline, from the south end of the boardwalk north to the lifeguard shack, a stretch City Manager Jim O' Connor called “our worst post-storm dune problem.” 

The job was expected to consume about 15,000 cubic yards of government-approved sand that contractor Mancil's Tractor Service of Palm City has been hauling in since Jan. 21.

The company is also replacing the black fabric windscreen, which was ripped from the boardwalk's east side by the storm, according to Mancil’s employee Mike Waters. This involves stapling the fabric to the boardwalk, then securing it with furring strips, a time-consuming process that Waters estimates could take a week and a half at least.

When the windscreen is in place, sand placing and tapering will complete the dune rebuild.

The project also includes replacing damaged sections of Ocean Drive, where sidewalks and pavement collapsed after being undermined by storm waves.

O'Connor said traffic detours along busy Ocean Drive are being kept as brief as possible, limited to a Monday- Friday, 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. window, and then only when the equipment is actually on site. Dan Rodriguez of the City's Public Works Department has been on hand to ensure safe traffic flow.

Mancil has also been contracted for the City's Humiston Beach renourishment project, because, O'Connor says, the sand is available, the price is right and the contractor is already here. The Humiston job is a smaller, with a price tag of $45,000. 

The City's only other remaining storm-related beach project, said O'Connor, will be the repair or replacement of the large stairway over the dune line from the beach access path at the A1A-Bahia Mar intersection, which was completely torn away during the hurricane.

Why has it taken four months for these projects to get going?

O'Connor said that order for a local government to receive reimbursement for storm damage from the federal government, FEMA must inspect torn up beaches and dunes before a single spoonful of sand is moved.

The city or county must produce photos of what the site looked like before the storm, and a survey must be done.  Only then, after FEMA has studied the request and survey and approved reimbursement, can repair work begin.

The wait time was long, O'Connor said, because FEMA dispatched only one inspection team to cover the whole east coast of Florida, starting in south Florida and working its way north, finally making it to Indian River County in January.

Yet another challenge, he said, was that, as more and more projects were given the go-ahead, the sand contractors begin to get booked up, because everyone is rushing to get their beach projects done by March 1: State law forbids disruptive activity – such as bulldozers spreading sand – on beaches during turtle nesting season.

Up in Orchid, Town Manager Noah Powers authorized a dune survey after the October storm and Guettler Brothers Construction of Fort Pierce began dumping 15,000 tons of state-approved, inland sand on Jan. 24.

The $380,350 emergency beach renourishment project has now been completed, re-stabilizing the stretch of city shoreline between Sanderling and Wabasso that suffered a 50-foot dune wash-out in Matthew's wet, windy wake, and Town of Orchid beaches have re-opened.