Gulf Beachfront Getting a Major Facelift

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By Ed Offley

The world’s most beautiful beaches are about to get even better.

Beach SceneThree years after Hurricane Michael seriously eroded sections of the twenty-seven-mile Gulf beachfront, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin a $28.5-million beach renourishment project that will add approximately 2.1 million cubic yards of sand along the western and eastern ends of the beach.

“Right now, we’re looking at a startup date of September 9,” beach management consultant Lisa Armbruster told the Bay County Tourist Development Council at its monthly meeting on August 24. Current plans are for the dredging to begin on the county’s west end near Pinnacle Port, moving east to the Russell-Fields Pier at Pier Park. A second phase will then proceed west from St. Andrews State Park to the Ocean Towers condominium at the foot of Richard Jackson Boulevard. The central section of the beach was found not to be sufficiently eroded to require renourishment.

The dredging will increase the depth of the beach between tens of feet to over 100 feet depending on local conditions, Armbruster said.

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC, the prime contractor, will carry out the same procedure as done in four previous renourishment projects: A hopper dredge will lift sand from authorized “borrow areas” just offshore, then transport the material to a linkup giving access to a submerged pipeline running ashore that connects to a second pipeline running down the beach parallel to the water’s edge. The vessel will then pump a slurry mixture of sand and water to the beach pipeline where bulldozers will reshape the beach with the new material.

Beach surveys after Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Hurricane Sally in 2017 found serious erosion along the east and west ends of the beach. This prompted the Corps of Engineers to select the two sections of the beach that will receive renourishment. A separate $11-million renourishment project is planned for the Gulf beachfront at St. Andrews State Park during this same period.

Project planners estimate that once begun, the dredging operation will move along the beach at a rate of 500 to 1,000 feet a day. Working on a 24/7 nonstop schedule, the project is estimated to take between now and late January 2022.

Beachfront property owners and visitors will experience only a short-term disruption of beach access during the renourishment, according to Armbruster. As in previous dredging projects, the active construction area will be limited to a 1,000-to-2,000-foot area at any one time, and the contractors will build a “sand bridge” on either side that will allow beachgoers to cross over the pipeline to get to the water.

While the slurry mixture that fountains out of the pipeline will appear much darker than the white sugar sand Panama City Beach is famous for, once it dries out the new sand is identical to the beach itself.

The upcoming renourishment is the third largest of the five projects carried out along Panama City Beach, Armbruster said. A 1998-99 beach restoration – three years after Hurricane Opal savaged the area in 1995 – placed about 9.8 million cubic yards of sand along the entire 18.5-mile shoreline. In 2005-06, the Corps of Engineers contracted for a renourishment project adding 3.3 million cubic yards of sand to repair about 17.5 miles of damaged beachfront following Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Smaller renourishments in 2011 and 2017 were deemed “beach repair” projects adding sand to smaller areas where spot damage had occurred.

For more information and updates on the project go to the PCB web site at www.visitpanamacitybeach.com/things-to-do/beaches/beach-renourishment.