Mother Nature takes her sweet time building beaches, relying on rivers that provide the sand source, wave action, time and tides to break down sea shells and deposit them as sand grains on the shore. The job is usually well done, but we're talking millions of years here! And sometimes, as Mother Nature does, it's not always where man wants it to be. Contrast this slow-poke method with the manmade beach that's being created at breakneck speed this summer along Belleair Beach. We're not even talking millions of minutes, but speed can be costly.
Seeing this manmade sandy marvel develop day by day is awesome in the truest sense of the word. Here's an eye witness recap of what's involved in creating 150 lineal feet of beach per day.
Jointly funded by the Federal government (50%), the State of Florida (33%), and Pinellas County (17%), the Sand Key Phase IV Beach Restoration Project is a $22.5 million dollar project orchestrated by the Army Corps of Engineers to restore sand to the extensively eroded two and a half miles of shoreline of the barrier island known as Sand Key.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) presents a West-Central Florida Erosion Study at this Website
The project contractor is Weeks Marine of Camden, NJ. The first evidence that beach construction was about to begin occurred in April, when the Public Works Department of the City of Belleair Beach began videotaping the Morgan Drive Park which had been designated as the staging area. Less than a week later, a crew from CDB began photographing and documenting every crack and crevice of the seawall and buildings along the 8/10ths of a mile of Belleair Beach.
Finally on May 11th, tugboats appeared on the horizon, maneuvering the pumping station, a Water World-like structure that looked bizarre and gargantuan when it was finally moored 600 feet offshore. Shortly after, tugboats strung a 1000-foot long pipe from the station to the shore. Since it was filled with air, the pipe floated on the surface like a rusting sea serpent. Fighting currents and strong winds, the tugs were finally able to get the correct alignment. The entire pipe was then filled with water and sunk, almost in the blink of an eye, with only the end protruding from the surf.
The next day, Morgan Park was no longer a beach park, but a full-fledged construction zone with bulldozers, cranes and pipes placed on the once picnic area. Hard hats and work boots of the crew replaced the sun visors and sandals of local residents. Morgan Park was off-limits for the rest of the summer, but not many along this sand-starved stretch were complaining.
A few days later, on May 14th, the first barge loaded with sand was pulled in from the Gulf of Mexico, anchored to the pumping station and within minutes, the first grains of sand started to appear on the waves breaking against the seawall. And it wasn't just trickling. The sand/water slurry gushed out of the 2½ foot diameter tube, like a hundred fire hydrants gone berserk - a truly amazing sight.
The sand source for the project is a borrow pit just north of Egmont Key in the mouth of Tampa Bay, 23 miles from its ultimate destination in Belleair Beach. The Corps of Engineers was responsible for finding a sand source that contained at least 2½ million cubic yards of sand of which 1.2 million cubic yards would become the shores of Belleair Beach and Sand Key. The remainder will be used to renourish Indian Rocks and Redington Beaches.
The Corps seems to have selected wisely. The sand on the "new" beach is white, soft and feels like walking on velvet. The sand dredged from the borrow site is loaded onto barges that are tugboat towed to the pumping station. Each barge is specially outfitted with concrete welded bottoms and carries approximately 2,000 cubic yards per trip. Although the barges are designed to hold 4,000 cubic yards of sand, they are loaded only to half capacity to maintain a 16-foot draft for clearance of their route.
At maximum pumping stage, there are four barges making eight trips per day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The pumping station can pump up to 4,000 feet at 15 cubic feet per second, creating 150 lineal feet of beach per day. A mere week after pumping began, there were mountains of sand in front of Morgan Drive Park ( well, not exactly mountains, but in flat Florida, we make mountains out of molehills). But they were big enough to block the view of Clearwater Beach to the north for the first - and probably, the last - time.
Because of the nature of the grade in this area, a total of nearly 550 feet of sand is being pumped with a 20 to 1 foot grade. Precautions were taken not to disturb the hard bottom (reefs, etc.)
Once the sand piles were large enough, it was time for bulldozers to sweep into action. Using surveying tools and markers, the dozers flattened the mountains, evenly spreading the sand from the cap of the seawall out a breathtaking 135 to 185 feet into the Gulf of Mexico.
The bulldozers, big as they are, are wimps in the face of so much sand and saltwater. Every 60 days, each $375,000 bulldozer needs a complete replacement of the bottom ruts and moving parts.
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