Gulfport’s effort to rebuild its beach is moving forward, leading to optimism among city officials that the money needed for the job may be secured.
City officials have been trying to get money to re-nourish the beach for a year and a half, City Councilmember Dan Liedtke, Ward 1, said Friday, July 3. They also want to make the beach more resilient to potential natural disasters. Such projects are expensive, however.
“The main issue is funding,” Liedtke said.
Liedtke estimated that the sand to expand the beach would cost $1.5 to $2 million. Because Boca Ciega Bay is so shallow, the sand has to be trucked in instead of barged in, which adds to the price. Increasing the beach’s disaster resilience with projects to reduce flooding and damage would cost extra.
The beach is vital to Gulfport’s economic health. It attracts visitors to the city, its shops and its restaurants; it brings boats to the marina and boosts local property values. But the size and shape of the beach changes constantly, molded by the wind and the sea.
In the early part of the 1900s what is now beach was mainly mangroves, Liedtke said, but the beach grew along with the community. Currently the beach is the smallest it has been in decades, with Tropical Storm Debby dealing it a major blow in June 2012, he said.
Sand was last added to the beach in 1994, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brought in about 30,000 cubic yards with money provided by Pinellas County, City Manager Jim O’Reilly said Monday July 6.
There’s hope that the Corps of Engineers will step in again. Corps officials visited Gulfport on May 27 to evaluate the beach and agreed to ask Congress for $50,000 for further study. The outcome of the request will be known by the end of the year, O’Reilly said, and if all goes well, Gulfport should have its expanded beach within five years.
Meanwhile, in a related development, O’Reilly told the Gulfport City Council on Tuesday July 7 that the city stands to receive about $1.6 million – $1.2 million after legal fees – as part of a recent settlement announced between oil company BP and five coastal states affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Once the money is allocated, the council will decide how to use it.
Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson said the money would not be incorporated into the city budget until it was in hand, which would not be for months.
“Beach nourishment, infrastructure, water quality projects. All [are] on the table under [the] current agreement,” he said July 8 via text message.