A stretch of Sunset Beach is shown in 2017 before sand nourishment efforts, left, and after in 2018. County Public Works Director Kelli Hammer Levy told Treasure Island commissioners that the sand placed on the beach is gone.

“When we look at Sunset Beach, obviously it’s in much worse condition,” Levy said. “We put a lot more sand out there, almost 240,000 cubic yards, and it’s gone. What we placed out there is no longer there, and actually eroded into a beach that (looks like it) predated that nourishment.

TREASURE ISLAND — Mayor Tyler Payne told county officials the Army Corps of Engineers is fighting a losing battle to control beach erosion with planned nourishment projects in 2024 and 2028, and there needs to be more urgency to come up with different solutions.

The mayor’s comments come after county officials informed commissioners that after 2024 and 2028 beach nourishment projects take place, future erosion control projects will be precariously contingent upon the U.S. Congress funding of any future Army Corps proposals. 

During the city’s April 18 meeting, County Public Works Director Kelli Hammer Levy told city commissioners “the Army Corps submits their requests for projects each year, just like we do during budgeting, but the new projects have not been getting funded. (The Army Corps) said they are more likely to fund a new construction if there is something catastrophic that happens, like a hurricane, but that’s not a position we want to be in,” she said.

John E. Bishop, the county’s coastal management coordinator, added that projects are rated for their cost effectiveness, with priority given to protecting upland property rather than addressing beach erosion.

Levy said the Army Corps’ most recent beach nourishment project has fought a losing battle against tidal wave action and storms. “Back in 2018 we completed the last beach nourishment, putting just under 39,000 cubic yards of sand on Sunshine Beach, and as of February this year about 36 percent of that sand from that nourishment event is still on the beach,” she said.

“When we look at Sunset Beach, obviously it’s in much worse condition,” Levy added. “We put a lot more sand out there, almost 240,000 cubic yards, and it’s gone. What we placed out there is no longer there, and actually eroded into a beach that (looks like it) predated that nourishment.”

She told commissioners that under current authorization, Treasure Island will have nourishment in 2024 and the opportunity for another in 2028. New authorization would then have to be determined, she said. Funding for any authorizations after 2028 would have to be approved by Congress, which is very uncertain. “Things get a little concerning to us” after 2028, she said. “The Army Corps has advised us new projects, that would be the new authorizations, are very difficult to obtain, very difficult.” 

The public works director said her department was bringing forward the recommendation that “we take the Army Corps up on that offer to nourish in 2028 under the old authorization, so that we can get additional sand on the beach,” she said.

Payne said his concern is that “the current program is not working.” He said it is frustrating because “we’re desperately trying to come up with ideas of how we can save our beach, and we just get, ‘No, that’s not going to work.’

“I really appreciate how hard you guys work on this, but I am not seeing the urgency that we are experiencing out in the community that our beaches are disappearing,” the mayor said. “We have no light at the end of the tunnel of how we’re going to solve that issue, other than just doing what we’ve been doing for the past ten years.”

Payne said it’s “great” that Treasure Island is getting a nourishment project at the end of this year, “but that’s even a long time to wait. Then wait another four years. We’ve already been down this road, we’ve read this book, we’ve seen the ending is that our beach is gone after four years … It’s very concerning to me that we’re just going to do the same thing over again and get the same result.”

Levy said the city has asked the Corps if they would consider adding a dune to the 2028 project.

“My concern is that the 2024 project is going to do exactly what you said,” Levy told Payne. “We are literally putting sand out there exactly the same way and we can’t change the design now. So we know in four years, we’re not going to be in a good place.” 

Commissioner Beth Wetzel asked why the Army Corps can’t consider installing offshore structures such as groins to prevent erosion.

Bishop advised that coastal structures like t-groins are “very difficult to permit.” It took more than 20 years to get T-groins permitted at Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach, he said.

There is one single rock groin structure at Sunset Beach at the south end which is holding sand, and the county is thinking about a feasibility study on that. There is also a breakwater just south of that.

“I won’t want to give any promises until it is looked at,” Bishop said. “There are other things that can be done, but they are difficult to permit.”

Structures don’t fix everything, he said. “There’s a lot of thought that if we build structures, we won’t have to nourish as often or at all, but structures don’t do that. Structures tend to work in very isolated and specific circumstances.”

City commissioners approved taking the Army Corps up on its offer to nourish the beach in 2028 under the old authorization, with commissioners noting they had no other choice.