Gulf County weighs beach restoration options

“There are four houses I know of, and probably more, that aren’t going to make it through the winter,” one resident said.

GULF COUNTY — The Board of Gulf County Commissioners hopes to make a decision in January on how to restore the beaches along St. Joseph Peninsula, but some residents say that will be too late.

“Time is of the essence,” said South Gulf resident Butch Kline. “The time keeps going, and we’ve kind of been kicking the can down the road. There are four houses I know of, and probably more, that aren’t going to make it through the winter.”

County staff said all the proposals for the restoration, a project deemed urgent two years ago, fall short by at least $6 million when compared to the bids submitted. The county has $10.6 million flagged for the project.

Among the options are pumping new sand from the Cape Shoals area off Cape San Blas or using sand from the county’s land in Honeyville. Also in the mix is the construction of offshore structures, such as groins and jetties, which would alter the currents near the Stump Hole and hopefully alter erosion rates along one of the fastest-eroding stretches in Florida. The county is seeking $3 million in RESTORE Act dollars, out of a pot of money controlled by the Gulf Coast Consortium, to build such a structure.

Using inland sand, the Honeyville option, would provide some logistical issues, especially from the level of truck traffic that would be required to haul some 1 million cubic yards of sand from Honeyville to the beach.

“The road bed will be gone,” resident Roland Wilson said.

However, Commissioner Warren Yeager said the sand from the county pit tested as beach compatible, with grain size a bit larger than typical beach sand, meaning it likely would hold in place longer.

But each option comes down to the same arithmetic, said assistant county administrator Michael Hammond, and that $6 million shortfall.

“Under every scenario, we are going to need to either shorten the project, meaning the beaches on the north end would not get sand, or we would need to narrow the project, meaning it would not last as long,” Hammond said. “We’ve got a lot of options, but we are short on money.”

South Gulf property owners previously have voted to tax themselves to fund a local match on the project, which Wilson said he supports, though he would be disinclined to support a third vote unless the area of the Stump Hole was addressed.

“The current wants to cut through there to the bay,” Wilson said. “Why keep fighting something you will never win? Let it do what it wants to. It will cost you a whole lot less.”

But Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County, said allowing the current to break through to the bay would degrade the bay while not greatly reducing erosion along the beaches. If anything, she said, it would increase erosion along the coast inside St. Joseph Bay.

“This is environmental, this is economic,” she said of the need for the restoration, adding that a possible answer would be structuring the project to be completed in phases.

Yeager said the county’s coastal engineer has suggested reverse-bidding the project, putting the county’s $10.6 million on the table and seeking proposals for what work could be completed with that budget.

As if to drive home that point, Commissioner Ward McDaniel noted that the Stump Hole area was taking a beating with heavy winds Tuesday and added that winter seems to be a more difficult season than summer for coastal erosion. Kline also noted the level of construction in South Gulf and how that activity would be affected if structures are taken by the Gulf.

Hammond noted that the county also has submitted a request for a $6 million legislative appropriation to address, in some manner, the coastal erosion issues.

Commissioners agreed to set a public workshop on the issue Jan. 23, with the commission’s regular meeting to follow.