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Army OKs beach renourishment for Brevard County

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach cleared the final bureaucratic hurdle in bringing a $34 million beach renourishment project to their shores, with new sand expected as soon as 2016, Local 6 news partner Florida Today reports.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, signed off Monday on a plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Brevard County to put 655,000 cubic yards of sand on 7.8 miles of the two beaches, from just south of Patrick Air Force Base south to Flug Avenue.

Darcy's signature is a major milestone for the project, two-decades in the making, and means the federal government finds the plan "technically feasible and economically justified."

"Until the signature happened, it wasn't even eligible for federal construction funding," said Mike McGarry, the county's beach renourishment coordinator.

The federal government is expected to pay 54 percent of the project's initial construction costs. Of the remaining 46 percent, the county would cover 60 percent and the state the rest.

The project had hung in bureaucratic limbo since May 2012, when Steven L. Stockton, director of civil works for the Corps, signed off on the plan as "technically feasible."

Large dredging projects over the past decade have kept shorelines wide and thick along Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Indialantic and Melbourne Beach.

But an offshore coquina rock reef — a habitat that federal regulators deem essential to fish — held up a larger-scale beach project on Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour.

In order to avoid burying the rock, sand has for years been hauled by truck and put along the dunes to guard properties along the two beaches following hurricanes and other severe storms.

Some fishermen and environmental groups, such as Surfider Foundation, have criticized the larger dredging plans as too damaging to the rock habitat.

The project would bury about 3 acres of more than 30 acres of the sabellarid worm reef that crops up in the surf off the two beaches.

The worms make up less than 10 percent of the rock, officials say.

But to make up for burying some of the reef, the project would place 4.8 acres of articulated concrete mats, with embedded coquina rock just offshore, in water about 15 feet deep.

"It's not the same type of habitat at all, and it's experimental at best," said Mike Daniel, chairman of the Sebastian Inlet Chapter of Surfrider Foundation. "This is a very expensive and very unnecessary project."

To lessen impacts to the offshore habitat, instead of dredging sand directly onto the beach, the plan calls for harvesting sand from shoals several miles offshore of Cape Canaveral, storing it on land north of Port Canaveral, then hauling the sand to the beach by truck.

That will make the project take more than twice as long as a traditional beach dredging sand replenishment project, McGarry said.

But the Corps estimates economic benefits will outweigh the project's costs by a 3:1 ratio, with average annual benefits of more than $10 million.

The project's timing would depend on the availability of federal, state and local funding, officials said.