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North island beach repair project hits new snag; needs more sand and funds

STORY BY SUE COCKING (Week of February 11, 2021)

New surveys conducted over the past couple of months show recent storms have stripped more sand from North Beach, bumping the cost of the ongoing restoration of some 3.7 miles of beachfront from about $12 million to more than $14 million.

The Indian River County Commission last week voted unanimously to spend an additional $675,000 from its beach restoration fund for Guettler Brothers Construction to add 77,000 cubic yards of sand to the 307,000 cubic yards already planned for the shore from Seaway subdivision south to Wabasso Beach Park. More than 200,000 native dune plants also will be planted.

The county originally had budgeted $7.5 million in local funding for the project, with the remainder of the costs paid from federal and state grants. Now its local match will be about $8.2 million.

Last summer, county staffers examined beach and dune conditions along all 22.4 miles of Indian River barrier island, and their observations were the basis of the north island beach restoration contract with Guettler. But since those surveys, the shoreline was hammered by waves from Tropical Storm Isaias, Hurricane Teddy, and Tropical Storm Eta, along with several unnamed nor’easters.

As a result, Guettler’s pre-construction surveys done in late December and early January found that about 25 percent more sand than previously thought would be needed to restore the 3.7-mile stretch of beach.

Restoration of North Beach originally was planned as one large project extending from Seaway south to Turtle Trail Beach Park, about 6.6 miles at a total cost of more than $25 million to be completed by April of this year.

But restoration bids came in higher than expected and the county had to divide it into two phases with the second phase commencing next fall following sea turtle nesting season.

County officials said they are concerned about the increasing frequency and intensity of beach-eroding storms that occur here; the ability of the beach restoration fund to cover steadily rising repair costs in the future; and the uncertainty of future grant awards from federal and state governments.

To address that concern, commissioners voted to allocate one-third of one cent from tourist development tax revenues to the beach restoration fund, which will provide an additional $210,000 annually.