■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE
There’s been a flurry of activity down at the beach accesses this past week, including a handful of men in bright green safety jackets and strange podiums with signs that read “vibration monitor” on them. The time of beach renourishment is nigh, and dredging is scheduled to begin.
According to Jim Yocum, a public affairs specialist with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the project is in mobilization mode right now – bringing equipment to the beach, laying the pipelines, building crossovers for pedestrians, starting the vibration pre-study and getting everything ready to start construction.
“Daily sea turtle surveys are also underway,” Yocum said. “The dredge is expected to begin on Tuesday, May 28 in the morning, starting in the North Reach area of the project.”
Yocum said the construction is broken down into what they call the “North Reach” and the “South Reach.” The North Reach begins near 1st Street and moves north to about 18th Street. They expect it will take about 10 days to finish that stretch.
The South Reach is in Gasparilla State Park and is scheduled to start immediately after the North Reach is finished and run for about three to five days.
The beach will be open during construction, with the exception of the area of active construction that will be closed to the public for safety reasons. “Active construction area is about 10,00 to 15,000 feet of beach,” Yocum said. “Barring any weather or mechanical delays, the work usually moves an average of about 500 feet along the shore per day, or one to two blocks. Once construction starts, the equipment shouldn’t be in one place too long unless there is a weather or mechanical delay. The dredge pipeline will be on the beach until the entire project is complete.”
If you’re curious as to what the little white “podium” items are at the end of some of the beach accesses, they are vibration monitors. Yocum said vibration monitoring is done pre-construction and during construction to determine potential increases in vibrations from the beach equipment. The monitoring being done now is to determine pre-construction levels and existing conditions for all beachfront structures.
All nesting shorebirds and sea turtles that would be directly impacted by the beach renourishment project will be relocated while the dredging takes place. Yocum said their construction plan is designed to have “minimal impact on turtle-nesting season.” The project includes daily early-morning monitoring by state-permitted turtle observers to relocate nests to a safe location, and that will continue throughout construction.
The renourishment plan includes 1.4 miles of beach around the Historic District and approximately 0.4 mile at the south end.
According to USACE, the $6.4 million project is expected to take about two months to complete and is scheduled to start in late May.