Trucks began arriving at Indian Pass with mountains of sand a few weeks ago, and County Commissioner for District V Phil McCroan says residents have been calling him non-stop with concerns.
“We’ve had a lot of calls and emails,” he said in the Nov. 23 County Commission meeting. “We’re in the process of doing the berm at Indian Pass and the cape, and we’ve got a chance, folks, to use that FEMA money to harden that beach.”
“Some people have been a little upset, you know, thinking that the berm’s going to be 12 foot high, and it’s not the case,” he continued.
The commissioner asked County Engineer Clay Smallwood, who has been leading the dune restoration project, to provide the board and the public with an update.
“It’s important to protect the infrastructure that’s there,” Smallwood said. “So in the interim, it’s a bit of a headache, but in the long run, it’s the right thing to do.”
The dune restoration project, which will eventually cover all of Gulf County’s public beaches, has been in the works since Hurricane Michael significantly damaged the beaches’ berms in October, 2018.
County Administrator Michael Hammond said the project, when completed, will cost upwards of $16 million, which the county will front and later be reimbursed for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The high price tag, Hammond said, is the reason the project has taken so long to get under way.
“Had we had plenty of money, we would have done like Mexico Beach and went ahead and did that project like nine months after the storm,” he said. “We had to wait until we got a commitment that FEMA was gonna pay us back, and we had to wait until we got an answer on the match.”
Residents’ chief complaint, McCroan said, had to do with the height of the dunes, which now sit in many places at more than 10 feet high.
However, Smallwood said that when finished, berms will average about three to five feet in height and about 20 to 40 feet in width, depending on their location.
But high noise levels and unclear communication have caused residents to call their county commissioner, hoping for a clearer picture of the project’s overall goals and a timeframe for construction.
“Just so people know, the coastal engineers and FEMA set the parameters on what is done,” McCroan said. “It don’t come from the county folks.”
Smallwood said the first stretch of the restoration, which will start around Dead Man’s Curve and extend to Money Bayou, will take around four months to complete. The next phase, which will cover Beacon Hill and St. Joe Beach is estimated to take another four.