Duval County beach renourishment finishes ahead of hurricane season

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - Contractors completed dredge work last week to renourish Duval County's beaches after they were pounded last October by Hurricane Matthew.

The project, which helps reduce risk to infrastructure, also rebuilt the dunes that had been devastated by the hurricane.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accomplished its goal to have the restoration project done by the start of hurricane season June 1.

The City of Jacksonville funded the additional dune work that included building dunes in Jacksonville, Neptune and a portion of Atlantic Beach.

The project, which was originally to widen the beach berm between 20 to 60 feet and raise the elevation of the beach by about 3 to 5 feet, began in mid-September and had to regroup after Hurricane Matthew swept through the area.

Dredging stopped in December as originally scheduled, because of the extra workload and the contractor's prior commitments, but it began again April 1 and was finished by May 24.

From federal and state agencies, to the city, beach communities and contractors, everyone contributed to completing the critical project in a safe and timely manner, officials said.

More than a million cubic yards of sand -- equivalent to more than 2.7 billion pounds -- was dredged, piped and tilled across about 10 miles of county shoreline. Roughly 860,000 cubic yards went to building the beach and another 200,000 cubic yards went to rebuilding dunes. About 5,000 cubic yards of additional sand is currently stockpiled. The city plans to truck-transfer it along the beach to repair specific areas of dune erosion generally between 18th and 27th Avenues South on Jacksonville Beach. 

Beach tilling, to loosen the dredged sand for marine turtle nesting, and demobilizing pipeline and other equipment is ongoing during the next week, officials said.

Great Lakes contractors will also push up the remaining sticks and straw from Hurricane Matthew toward the dunes, roughly between 18th Avenue South, Jacksonville Beach, and the county line. 

“This will help protect the dunes, capture more sand, and accelerate the dunes' natural recovery in the area,” said Kevin Bodge, an Olsen Associates senior engineer.  Bodge helped design the former dune system, and has worked for the city on Duval County shore protection for nearly two decades.

“The detrital reeds left by the storm are currently too far seaward on the beach.  They’re accumulating a pioneer dune that will be washed away during a very high tide or minor storm.  Instead, the reeds will better serve to accumulate sand farther landward, amidst the normal stable location of the dunes,” Bodge said.

City of Jacksonville officials said the city will start planting dune vegetation June 6 and continue through mid-August.  They anticipate installing about 620,000 native dune plants, including 589,000 sea oats and 31,000 plants of railroad vine, dune sunflower and panic grass.  The dune vegetation will start first in Neptune Beach between 1st Street and 8th Avenue North, Jacksonville Beach.  Planting in Atlantic Beach is anticipated June 21 through July 15, and planting in central/south Jacksonville Beach, is tentatively scheduled for July 18 through August 15.

Beach nourishment and dunes are extremely important to reducing coastal damages from storms and hurricanes.

The goal of engineered shore projects is to reduce risk and promote coastal resilience. The projects help to reduce damages to the economy, environment, infrastructure, human health and safety.  Thousands of residents and businesses in Duval County benefit from this shore project because storm events erode the beach rather than destroying coastal infrastructure.  Coastal communities with engineered beaches have historically fared much better than other communities as proven by numerous studies.

Along with providing economic stability and opportunities, beach renourishment projects also have inherent benefits in restoring critical habitat for shorebird and marine turtle nesting.

The Duval County project was initially constructed in 1978-80 and since then, five principal renourishments occurred (1985-87, 1991, 1995, 2005, and 2011) in addition to periodic placement of sand dredged from navigation projects.  Beach renourishment occurs about every five to six years to maintain beaches as part of the project.

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