Army Corps study: Sunset and Sunshine beaches face worse erosion in county

A stretch of Sunset Beach is shown in 2017 before sand nourishment efforts, left, and after in 2018. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study concluded that Sunset and Sunshine beaches require beach nourishment, and also installation of dune and berm features.

TREASURE ISLAND — When it comes to erosion rates from tidal action and rising sea levels, an Army Corps of Engineers’ Coastal Storm Risk Management Study predicts some coastal areas along Treasure Island could see the highest levels of dune and beach loss in the county.

During a City Commission meeting Aug. 18, Army Corps officials told city leaders their study concluded that Sunset and Sunshine beaches especially require periodic beach nourishment, and most important installation of dune and berm features.

In addition, the report reveals the future does not bode well for sea turtles, who over time will face the greatest danger with potential loss of their natural breeding grounds and habitat due to coastal beach erosion. However, they also face peril if remediation is not calculated carefully and creates sand dunes that are too high and impede hatchlings from heading out to sea.

In its study, the Army Corps noted an improved beach erosion control project could begin after a 50-year federal funded program is appropriated in 2027. The report emphasized its proposed plan is mindful of protecting sea turtles’ natural migration routes, even restoring nesting habitats. For example, an improved dune slope could provide a more welcoming environment for nesting turtles.

The study found erosion on Sunset and Sunshine beach is occurring quickly, along with Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach. Those beach areas showed the highest amount of erosion damage on the county’s coast.

Erosion rates reach a maximum of almost 43 feet per year at Sunset Beach, while the centers of the island are eroding at a rate of approximately 1 foot per year, the study warns.

Surveyors found the dune system at Sunset and Sunshine beaches is almost non-existent.

“The existing Treasure Island … shoreline in the vicinity of the project has a predominantly variable, low elevation, dune system. Treasure Island existing dune heights, relative to the upland elevation, range from 2 to 3 feet at Sunshine Beach and 0 feet to 4 feet in Sunset Beach,” the survey concluded.

Army Corps scientists warn without a project to reduce erosion, “dunes at the heavily developed northern and southern portions of Treasure Island … are likely to erode and eventually be eliminated along with the associated dune vegetation.”

The remediation plan chosen by the Army Corps includes placing dunes and berms at Sunset Beach in Treasure Island and Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach that will also serve to reduce erosion on nearby beaches, up and down the coastal shoreline.

Modeling showed Army Corps specialists that a more robust raised and widened dune system is required to create consistent protection from tidal action. The study recommended that sand renourishment of Sunset Beach include; a berm extension of 100 feet in length, along with a dune height of up to 10 feet, and a width up to 20 feet seaward. Placement of additional groins, seawalls or jetties have been removed from the plan.

Laurie Hadley, with the Army Corps Engineering Division, said an improved dune and berm system will increase space for additional recreation activity, provide habitat for nesting sea turtles, create additional beach area and protect from upland flooding.

“The slightly elevated dune will be wider, but not look aesthetically unpleasing and the wider beach will provide recreation benefits,” she said.

In an answer to Commissioner Deborah Toth’s question, Hadley said plantings will be placed on the dune structures to help prevent sand erosion.

The $211 million project will require a 35% match from the state or county, with 65% of the cost paid by a federal appropriation that will have to be approved by Congress.

The recommended berm elevation is 4.57 to 5.67 feet, which the study said is consistent with the previously authorized Pinellas County project and approximates the natural berm elevation.

Restricting the design height to the natural berm elevation minimizes the effects of beach reshaping by mechanical means, thereby protecting sea life such as turtles, survey scientists explained. Beach reshaping heights must be carefully calculated to match the natural berm elevation; the Army Corps report noted badly calculated vertical slopes or dropoffs caused by beach reshaping can hinder the beach access of nesting sea turtles, and may also pose safety problems related to recreational beach use.

Mayor Larry Lunn said the project is extremely important to Treasure Island, “as we continue to address how we can best revitalize our beach.”

Commissioner Tyler Payne noted this remediation is very different from beach nourishment where sand is just placed on the beach and is gone by the next storm. He added development of a dune system could change the appearance and structure of the beach.

“It may make the beach look different, but hopefully it will be for the longtime longevity of the beach,” he added.

Parks and Recreation unveils 10-year Master Park Plan

Parks and Recreation officials unveiled a Master Plan to serve as a vision of how city parks and facilities may evolve over the next decade.

Items in the plan are a result of several community gatherings and focus groups held by the department to solicit comments. Input from the gatherings resulted in suggestions to the master plan that include:

• Provide a safer environment to walk and bike by improving connectivity between parks and public spaces

• Improve water access and water activities, and install community workout and exercise equipment in city parks

• Enhance public spaces with art, and provide unique community events and programming.

Many comments centered around needed improvements to Treasure Bay Golf & Tennis Center at 10315 Paradise Blvd.

Respondents desire improved and augmented recreational opportunities, along with installation of an exercise trail and paddle boat launch. Some felt Treasure Bay needs an amphitheater and enhanced water access to the Intracoastal Waterway.

In regard to Treasure Bay, a goal already in the Strategic Plan seeks “to increase usability and functionality, while working towards self-sustaining recreation facilities. This objective includes action plans that explore potential Treasure Bay restructuring.”

The Master Plan provided suggestions for all city parks and recreation facilities. Commissioner Saleene Partridge emphasized this is merely a vision for the future of parks and recreation services and anyone with comments or suggestions can still add their thoughts by contacting the city Parks and Recreation Department.

Speeding on Blind Pass waterway

At a future meeting, commissioners will decide whether the Blind Pass waterway should be declared a minimum/no wake zone each day. Blind Pass is currently a no/minimum wake zone on weekends and holidays, but the city received requests to restrict speed seven days a week.

The rationale to restricting speed is that there have been reports of boats and jet skiers speeding in the pass during the week potentially causing damage to boats that are not on lifts and seawalls. Some residents say manatees, dolphins, paddle boarders and even other boaters, face injury by speeding jet skiers and boaters.

According to city staff, there has also been a request to establish a no/minimum wake zone in the area of St. James Bridge adjacent to and behind the new Fusion docks. This request was made by the owners of the Fusion, citing concern for boaters and jet skis safety.

Others fear limiting speed near Blind Pass would force watercraft users to avoid the area and speed through other waterways, while some say the city has limited resources to police the waterway.

City staff told commissioners the process to establish speed zones is lengthy and may require coordination with both Pinellas County navigation and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.