SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. -

Foaming waves wash over the algae-covered rocky outcrops along the shoreline, providing a colorful mini-ecosystem for juvenile sea turtles, fish, mollusks, sponges, crustaceans and other creatures.

This shin-scraping “worm rock” between the Pineda Causeway and Indialantic is considered essential fish habitat by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Our news partners at Florida Today report that the near shore reef has caused years of delays to the Space Coast’s most complicated and controversial beach renourishment plan, the Mid-Reach project. Traditional beach renourishment — where sand is dredged up offshore and pumped onto the beach — would smother the reef in sand.

Now, the Army Corps of Engineers is pursuing a renourishment plan that would bury three of the 31 acres of reef.

But the controversy isn’t over yet.

Oceanfront property owners, beachside taxpayers, politicians, fishermen and surfers disagree about the Corps’ plan to truck sand to the area, protecting structures and promoting tourism.

Estimated cost is$33 million. At the earliest, construction could start in fall 2014, said Mike McGarry, Brevard County beach project coordinator — but neither funding appropriation nor permits have been secured.

Roughly 30 percent of Satellite Beach’s property-tax base is located east of State Road A1A, City Manager Michael Crotty said. During the early 2000s, federal officials told him to expect a two- to four-year delay before beach renourishment began.
“We are now in 12- and 14-year delays,” he said.

Meanwhile, Barbara and Keith Stroup view the thin, eroded beach from their La Colonnade condominium balcony. One recent afternoon , dried-out bunches of brown seaweed and scattered seashells extended all the way from the waterline to the seawall at the edge of their condo property.

“You can see the high tide comes up all the way to the seawall,” Barbara Stroup said, pointing at the seaweed and seashells. “Three more hours, and it’ll be all underwater.
“The turtles come up and lay their eggs — and two days later, the nest washes out and gets destroyed,” she said.

The Stroups support the Mid-Reach program. But Matt Fleming, who lives a mile south of the Stroups, opposes the initiative.

A surfer since 1996, the 30-year-old catches waves at the breaks behind Balsa Bill Surf Shop. And last weekend, he fried 4 pounds of whiting he caught while beachcasting.
Fleming likens the term “beach renourishment” to feeding a starving person plastic wrappers and cardboard. He argues that Mid-Reach ecological damage would outweigh economic benefits for condominium associations, insurance companies and developers.

The Stroups support the Mid-Reach program. But Matt Fleming, who lives a mile south of the Stroups, opposes the initiative.

A surfer since 1996, the 30-year-old catches waves at the breaks behind Balsa Bill Surf Shop. And last weekend, he fried 4 pounds of whiting he caught while beachcasting.
Fleming likens the term “beach renourishment” to feeding a starving person plastic wrappers and cardboard. He argues that Mid-Reach ecological damage would outweigh economic benefits for condominium associations, insurance companies and developers.

“These interests collectively decided that investing capital in large edifices built on the edges of eroding sand cliffs was a financially intelligent thing to do,” Fleming told the Satellite Beach Council.

“Wealthy interests who are now asking us to spend taxpayer money — and degrade the environment — to help their bottom line,” he said.

Not 'dredge-and-fill'

Since the 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers has added sand to various Brevard beaches to buffer damages during fierce storms.

But without the benefit of extra sand, the Mid-Reach area was battered in 2004 by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. The storms broke apart all of Satellite Beach’s dune crossovers, inflicting hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Several homes, most noticeably along Shell Street in the city, were damaged by storm surge. At least two of those homes were later demolished.

McGarry said a typical “dredge-and-fill” renourishment project — which pipes sand from offshore onto the beach — would bury all 31 acres of rock reef along the Mid-Reach area. Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers proposes to add less sand using trucks.

Trucks would haul 655,000 cubic yards of sand onto the beach and rebuild 10 to 20 feet of shoreline, depending how much reef lies offshore. The rockiest stretch of Mid-Reach, from Hightower Beach Park northward, would only receive dune reconstruction.

“The project has been crafted with huge effort put into minimizing the amount of rock impact. The rock reefs are valuable habitat. And we would not argue that,” McGarry said.

“Contrary to some belief, it’s not all about the rich people who live on the ocean. It’s about building a recreational beach and providing shore protection — but a large focus has been put on minimizing rock impact,” he said.

McGarry said Brevard’s worm-rock environment — named for the Sabellariid worms that build tiny tubes on the reef — is naturally adapted to scouring sands and shifting seabed terrain, which is shaped by waves and fierce storms.

“If you bury it with sand for some period of time, it doesn’t truly kill that community. The community will re-establish on the rocks when they’re re-exposed,” McGarry said.

“So it’s very different from a coral reef community, for example, that is adapted to living in very clean water,” he said.

But Rodney Smith, executive director of the Satellite Beach-based Anglers for Conservation, opposes the project. He said scientists have little knowledge of the reef’s history.

“When it comes to fish habitat, these living reefs — not rocks — are significant to the Indian River Lagoon estuary system. They’re a unique extension,” Smith said.
“It protects sea turtles and fishes, including pompano — one of the most significant recreational and commercial fish of our nation — along with snook, tarpon, black drum and redfish,” he said.

“We’re talking about juvenile fishes, and they need places where they can hide. We’ve already killed off the seagrass beds in the Indian River Lagoon,” he said.
The Indialantic-based Sea Turtle Preservation Society has not taken a stance on the Mid-Reach issue, said Roger Pszonowsky, chairman.

“You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s an issue with many sides, and we’re not a scientific organization,” Pszonowsky said.

Surfers worry

The Surfrider Foundation’s Sebastian Inlet chapter campaigns against the Mid-Reach project.

Mike Daniel, vice chairman, labeled the undertaking “a taxpayer bailout” that will smother 3 acres of an oceanic ecosystem.

“The people in these condos just look at the reef as a bunch of rocks. They don’t see the juvenile green sea turtles feeding out there,” Daniel said.

The Mid-Reach contains numerous surf breaks popular with local surfers. In a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, the chapter’s executive committee feared the project could impact these sites.

“Three of the best surfers in the world came from Brevard County — Kelly Slater and C.J. Hobgood and Damien Hobgood — and they learned to surf reef breaks in Satellite and Indian Harbour Beach,” the letter states.

“Plus, dozens of others from central Brevard have made careers from surfing professionally. And hundreds of kids compete in locally organized contests every month on the beaches and reefs that the (Corps) wants to destroy,” the chapter argued.

However, the Surfrider Foundation’s Cocoa Beach chapter’s vice chairman believes the breaks may not be in danger.

John Hearin recently completed his doctoral dissertation on the impact of beach renourishment on Brevard surfing waves from 1971-2011. The Florida Tech coastal engineer spent three years analyzing grain sizes of newly introduced sand, beach slopes and wave-break measurements.

Hearin’s conclusions? Coarser sand and a steeper beach from renourishment negatively impacted Cocoa Beach surfing between 2001-08, changing the wave environment.

Hearin has not studied the Mid-Reach in detail. However, he said this coarser sand pumped from Canaveral Shoals — which clashed with Cocoa Beach’s smaller, finer granules — makes for a reasonably good match for the Mid-Reach.
For example, his measurements and observations show that the 2010 beach renourishment project at Ocean Park in Melbourne Beach did not adversely affect surfing waves.

Using a kayak, Hearin took sonar measurements and determined one renowned surf break, RC’s, is created by a deep offshore valley that funnels wave energy, particularly during northeast swells.

“I haven’t seen anything that would suggest to me that the surf at RC’s would be impacted in any significant way,” he said of the Mid-Reach during a public presentation.

No decision

After a 38-minute debate last month, the Satellite Beach City Council balked at formally supporting the Mid-Reach project.

“Waste of taxpayer money. In a bad economy, I don’t want tax dollars being used to dump sand on the beach when the ocean’s going to swallow it up,” said Julio Torres, a teacher at Kennedy Middle in Rockledge. He moved from Miami to Satellite Beach 16 years ago to surf.

Conversely, Councilman Bill Higginson, a former surfer who lives in the oceanfront Buccaneer Condos, said a newly emerging group — the Satellite Beach Condominium Coalition — supports Mid-Reach renourishment.

This organization includes residents of Buccaneer, La Colonnade, Buccaneer Beach Club, La Playa, Paradise Beach Club and Seamark condos.

“We’ve got people who pay 30 percent of the tax base in this city, and they want their property protected. I can’t blame them one bit for that,” Higginson said.

But Councilwoman Sheryl Denan does not support the Mid-Reach project.

“I’ve seen it happen in New Jersey, where I grew up in Ocean City. It was replenished over and over and over and over again — and nature just takes its course,” Denan said.

Mayor Joe Ferrante pointed out that the city owns 40 percent of the beachfront land within its borders — a stewardship program that residents strongly support — and City Council must protect this property.

Ferrante called for a future workshop so Brevard natural-resources officials and other stakeholders can discuss sand quality, impact on sea turtles and surfers, and other questions.

No meeting has yet been scheduled, Crotty said.

“This is a real Gordian Knot, folks. I mean, you pull one side, it just gets tighter. You pull the other side, it gets tighter still,” Councilman Gregg Billman said of the debate.