Until 1994, the Gulf of Mexico along the Panhandle's coastline had enjoyed years of relative calm. Storms occurred so infrequently, with such ample time periods in between, that our beaches were able to restore themselves through natural accretion. No major storm had disrupted the dune system, and those large, sturdy dunes protected the stability of our beach and the upland structures beyond them.
Then, in 1995, Hurricane Opal ravaged the Panhandle's beaches. Our dunes were destroyed, and with them, our healthy beach system. We lost thousands of tons of sand from our beaches. For the first time in history, the State of Florida declared much of Florida's western Panhandle coastline as "critically eroded" and offered millions of dollars in grant funding to counties and municipalities to address beach revegetation and renourishment issues. This was over and above FEMA dollars given as a direct result of the disaster strictly to re-establish a primary berm line to protect upland structures and infrastructure from tidal action in the event of another major storm.
Between 1995 and the present time, repetitive damaging storms have continued to eat away the sand from our already depleted beaches.
During 2005, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection awarded Gulf County approximately $562,000 to conduct a Beach Management Feasibility Study, which is currently slated from completion in February 2006. The study will address the critically eroded beaches located between Stump Hole and the State Park through a "beach restoration" program.
Beach restoration generally involves extending the beach through a process of dredging sand and returning it to the beach. Once implemented, the project will become an ongoing process which will likely include maintenance (or adding additional sand) every 5 to 7 years to maintain the beach.
The proposed project will protect hundreds of beachfront and upland structures. In addition, continued use of recreational beaches will be ensured to all Gulf County citizens and visitors. Visitors to the Cape total over 250,000 annually, with many of these being property owners or renters of privately owned structures. The project will also produce added benefits such as restoring the habitat for coastal wildlife. Equally as important to Gulf County, but less recognized, are the substantial economic benefits that result from our beaches. Beaches contribute to expanding federal, state and local tax bases; increase income and employment opportunities for residents; increase visitor spending; and enhance property values.
Click here to see a depiction of our project prepared by the coastal engineer!
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