Gulf County’s beach dune restoration project began its second phase last week, tackling the stretch of beach from the County line through St. Joe Beach.
Clayton Smallwood, the county’s engineer, said that progress is going as expected, despite the necessary efforts being taken to be mindful of sea turtle nesting season.
“We started St. Joe Beach on Friday of last week,” Smallwood said on Monday. “We’ve started hauling sand, and it’ll go until sometime in September if everything goes smoothly.”
“The contractor has kind of just hit his groove here in terms of how many trucks he needs, so he’s kind of got a consistent momentum, I think. There are some turtle nests showing up in the construction template area, so we will have to just skip around those and leave them until after the hatch period.”
The project started about a month after the beginning of sea turtle nesting season, and Smallwood said that workers are having to avoid certain stretches of beach to keep from disturbing newly laid nests.
Volunteers check Gulf County beaches every morning for evidence of new nesting behaviors, and Smallwood said the county and contractor are in contact with organizations tracking turtle nesting.
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 in November, 2021 that 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 at the Board of County Commissioners’ Nov. 23 meeting. “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.”
The first stretch of the project, which covered the beaches along Indian Pass, is nearly complete, Smallwood said, allowing crews to move on to the next phase.
A final leg, which will cover the north end of Cape San Blas, will have to wait until the fall, after delays on phase one pushed the project behind schedule.
“By permit, we can only be on there between October 1 and the end of spring, so that’s where we have to look at the calendar,” Smallwood said in April. “That’s what we’ve got to figure out.”