SANDBRIDGE – City officials this past month briefed civic league members on plans to conduct the next major sand replenishment project here.
The target remains 2018 — though whether federal dollars will help is uncertain.
Dan Adams, coastal program manager for public works, said the city wants to know whether federal funds will be available for the project. However, Adams said the city could proceed alone if the federal budget process lacks funding. He spoke during a Sandbridge Beach Civic League meeting at Sandbridge Community Chapel United Methodist Church on Monday, April 17.
“We spend millions to save billions,” he said, speaking of a nourishment program that restores the community’s beaches, protecting homes and property from storms and benefitting recreation and economic interests, too.
The Independent News in March published a report, called “Sand Dollars,” about uncertainty in federal funding for beach nourishment projects. That story contains a brief summary of efforts to restore the beaches here, including when federal appropriations have not matched the U.S. government’s commitment to provide a certain level of funding.
According to the most recent survey of the beach, roughly 1.17 million cubic yards of sand remain on the beach of the 2.18 million cubic yards placed there during the 2013 project. That means there is more than three years of project life left, Adams said, and the beach is in slightly better condition that it was before the last project.
“We don’t want to wait until we have one year left or no life left,” Adams said.
The proposed Trump administration budget recommends cuts to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, though Congress sometimes restores funding for local coastal projects. Eugene Pawlik, a spokesperson for the corps in Washington, D.C., said during an interview this past month that it could be May before a detailed administration budget is available.
Sandbridge has become self-reliant through a district that gathers additional tax dollars for the “local share” of beach projects, but the partnering with the corps provides regulatory and project management expertise while hopefully also providing federal money. Yet, in recent projects, the city has either paid the full bill or a disproportionate share.
The city could pay for a project if it can use the corps’ expertise, as it did in 2013, though it also hopes for federal money.
“We want to leverage the federal funding,” Adams said during the Sandbridge meeting.
The city maintains enough funds to cover two replenishments, said Phill Roehrs, the city’s water resources engineer overseeing flood control, navigation and estuary habitat restoration.
“You’re fully funded,” he told Sandbrdge residents, speaking of the local dollars set aside to cover projects.
Adams said it could be July or early August before the city knows whether federal dollars will be available for the replenishment project.
Either way, the recommendation by the city will be to proceed in 2018.
“Why are we waiting five to six years?” asked David Whitley, a Sandbridge businessperson, noting that projects were to be about three or four years apart.
“You get a larger volume, and you’re not paying for mobilization as often,” Adams said.
“The rule is you pay for as much sand as you possibly can when you have a contractor,” Roehrs said.
Whitley asked why the city doesn’t place even more sand on the beach when it can.
“It’s up for discussion,” Roehrs said.
Replenishments have been a key to success in Sandbridge, he added, noting that there would be no beach to speak of otherwise.