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Belleair Beach: ‘Erosional hotspot’
Several factors cause sand to leave aggressively, geology professor says
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Belleair Beach shows severe erosion after Tropical Storm Debby passsed by offshore in June 2012. A recent nourishment project repaired the damage; however, it seems the city’s beaches are subject to greater erosion from normal weather events than the typical beach community.
BELLEAIR BEACH – The expense of sand replacement in Belleair Beach has been a major factor in the city’s ongoing dispute with the county over public parking spaces needed to gain nourishment funds.

The city has been unable to come up with the needed parking, and a $200,000 bill to do the recent beach renourishment is in dispute.

The issue of who should pay the nourishment costs remains unresolved. The question of why Belleair Beach’s sand erodes so much quicker than other communities, requiring far more replacement sand and at a much higher cost was the focus of the Feb. 4 city council meeting.

Dr. Ping Wang, Associate Geology Professor at USF and a specialist in shore protection issues, said Belleair Beach, because of its location, is an “erosional hotspot.”

The city’s beach is located south of Clearwater Pass, and juts out from the surrounding shorelines. That puts Belleair Beach in a “divergent zone,” a spot where several factors cause sand “to leave aggressively,” Wang explained.

A very large ebb tide at Clearwater Pass, which is also present at John’s Pass, alters wind patterns set up by cold fronts in winter and storms in the summer, Wang said. The wave actions create a “divergent zone” where north and south winds cause sand to be lost in both directions. It also causes an offshore sand bar, which would help keep the sand in place, to disappear.

Because of its location, this effect is greatest at Belleair Beach, Wang said, causing accelerated erosion. Neighboring Belleair Shore does not participate in the sand renourishment program, and that has added to the problem, Wang said.

Consequently, Belleair Beach, at the northern end of the Pinellas beach strip, required four to 15 times more sand than the communities to the south in the latest renourishment, Council Member Rob Baldwin pointed out.

Sand replacement costs money, and that expense has been at the heart of the city’s recent dispute with the county.

Belleair Beach lost far more sand than the other communities, but Wang said a change in the 2012 nourishment process gives hope that the latest sand may stay in place longer.

Sediment size affects the staying power of sand, Wang said. In 2006, fine sand was used in the beach renourishment. This time, sand tests caused officials to change to a coarse sand.

The sand used is much coarser, with a lot of shells mixed in, and is less comfortable to walk on. But coarse sand is “more difficult to get transported” than fine sand, “which is picked up by the waves,” Wang said.

Baldwin wanted to know if modifying the inlet at Clearwater Pass would be a better long-term solution. Wang said that would take some years to have an effect.

“The way they are doing it (with the coarser sand) is more immediate,” he said.

Mayor Kathy Mortensen asked if groins, such as are used in Madeira Beach and Upham Beach, are helpful. Tests conducted at Upham Beach, which is in a divergent zone similar to Belleair Beach, show the groins there did help retain sand to a certain extent. “They were considered a success,” Wang said.

The renourishment issue with the county over public parking spaces is currently “on hold,” Council Member Leslie Notaro said later in the meeting. The city is seeking a variance from the parking requirements.

“We are still waiting for the powers that be to come up with the revised rules (on parking spaces needed) before proceeding,” said Notaro, who heads a council committee seeking to resolve the situation.

Boat parking rules approved

An ordinance regulating the parking of boats in private driveways for cleaning and maintenance was unanimously passed on first reading. A second and final reading is scheduled for next month’s council meeting.

The new law would allow boats in residents’ driveways up to a maximum of 48 hours, for maintenance limited to cleaning and detailing. A permit available from City Hall must be clearly displayed on the boat and be visible from the street. A resident can obtain a maximum of three permits a year.

Making repairs to a boat or boat engine is prohibited, as well as the outside parking of commercial utility trailers.

Baldwin had questioned the need for an ordinance, saying it might be overkill.

“Can’t people just call (the code enforcement officer) and say they want to wash their boat? I don’t want to create a bureaucracy around something that may be working,” he said.

“That’s just the problem,” Mortensen replied.

She said people do not call ahead of time and citations have to be issued.

No oil spill claim

Belleair Beach will not be joining some other local beach communities in seeking damages allegedly caused by effects of the BP oil spill. The city does not have the businesses and restaurants that would generate sufficient revenue to justify a claim, Notaro said.

“We would have a much more difficult time (proving losses),” she said.

The council agreed.
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