$17 million effort to renourish Pensacola Beach begins

The beach is the Gulf Coast’s single greatest natural resource and tourist attraction, so the more sand the better, right? That’s the conclusion of local officials, who have signed off on a $17 million project to restore area beaches.

The Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA) will begin work this month to restore and renourish 8.1 miles of Pensacola Beach shoreline. The project will replace sand loss experienced from Hurricanes Gustav, Ike, Ida and Isaac, as well as natural background erosion over the last ten years. The project is estimated to wrap up before March 1.

Weeks Marine, Inc., of Covington, La., will begin beach renourishment work along Ariola Drive, the central portion of the project. The work is expected to take approximately three months to complete.

The dredger vessel is due to arrive on site the week of November 16. Initial surveys and work on the submerged pipeline has already begun.

Weeks Marine will use a 30-inch Cutter suction dredger, the R.S. Weeks, to excavate sand from a permitted offshore borrow area and pump it directly to the center of the project along Ariola Drive.

Pensacola Beach renourishment work from April 2006. (Santa Rosa Island Authority/Special to The Pulse)
Pensacola Beach renourishment work from April 2006. (Santa Rosa Island Authority/Special to The Pulse)

Bulldozers will disperse the sand westward to Park West and the Fort Pickens gate. Once complete, the pipeline at Ariola Drive will reverse course to the east, where the beach fill will similarly be deposited eastward to just beyond Park East.

The 2015-2016 renourishment project will deposit 1.75 million cubic yards of sand along the Pensacola Beach shoreline, equating to almost 117,000 dump truck loads of sand. The current project, by comparison, is less than half of the initial beach restoration project of 2002-2003 and roughly 58 percent of the 2005-2006 beach restoration project following Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.

The project is intended to be a maintenance renourishment, designed to keep the beach in a healthy, protective condition for years to come. To achieve this goal, a higher percentage of sand will be placed along the eastern portions of the project. This will provide a feeder benefit to the rest of the western shoreline over the project’s life.

During construction, small segments of the beach will be closed for sand distribution and grading. Work is expected to progress quickly down the beach and will continue round-the-clock, seven days a week, until the job is complete. Impacted beach areas should only be closed for a few days. Sand ramps will be constructed over the shoreline pipe to allow access to the waterline.

Sand will be excavated from an 137-acre borrow area approximately four miles offshore, developed for the SRIA by Olsen Associates, Inc., the design engineer for the project. This site was utilized in both the 2002-2003 and the 2005-2006 restoration projects. Much of the sand on Pensacola Beach today, including sand in the frontal primary dunes, came from this borrow area.

Pensacola Beach renourishment work from 2003. (Santa Rosa Island Authority/Special to The Pulse)
Pensacola Beach renourishment work from 2003. (Santa Rosa Island Authority/Special to The Pulse)

When first distributed on the beach, the renourishment sand will have a slightly gray cast to it and may contain a higher percentage of shells and shell fragments in it. After a few days, the new sand will dry out and bleach to a nearly-white color, matching the color of the sand presently on the beach.

The borrow area has been evaluated not only for its sand characteristics and color, but also for the potential that oil or tar may exist in the site from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. An extensive field study was conducted as part of the permitting and design of this project to assess the likelihood that oil or tar products might be found in the borrow area. This field study found no evidence of any such contaminants.