Feds sign off on $35 million for Brevard's beaches

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials announced more than $35 million in new federal money to plump up the Space Coast, most of it going toward a long-awaited, hard-fought-over project to fatten beaches across the county's midsection, while burying a bit of rare coquina reef habitat. 

"I'm just real happy for our people that worked so hard on this, and it's finally coming to fruition for them," Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith told News 6 partner Florida Today.

With the federal funding in place, Brevard officials expect to begin to haul about 500,000 cubic yards of beach-quality sand to widen the so-called “Mid Reach” shoreline in Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach in late 2019 at the soonest, more likely sometime in 2020.

The money announced Monday was part of the Corps 2018 work plan for the Army Civil Works program, delivered to Congress on Thursday, June 7, and funded under federal legislation last year that provides $6.827 billion this year for the Corps civil works program.

The Corps also plans to fund — from a separate pool of money for coastal flooding and emergencies — more than $7 million in new sand in an area called the South Reach. That sand to replenish sand lost last year in Hurricane Irma is expected to go on beaches from Flug Avenue in Indialantic south to Spesssard Holland Park, North, in Melbourne Beach in early 2020, said Mike McGarry, Brevard's beach renourishment coordinator.

Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach were left out of the larger federal sand-pumping projects from Cape Canaveral to Melbourne Beach over the past 17 years, because the federal government protects offshore coquina rock outcroppings. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designates the rocks as essential fish habitat. The rocks provide shelter for fish and substrate for Sabellariid, a somewhat rare marine worm.

After years of environmental studies, Brevard County signed an agreement with the federal government two years ago that allowed the almost eight miles of beach, from just south of Patrick Air Force Base to Flug Avenue in Indialantic, to formally become part of a federally authorized beach renourishment project.

The plan buries about three of 30 acres of offshore rocks within the project area. So the county first must build and install the 4.8-acre artificial reef offshore before pumping sand onto the beach. 

The county is putting the articulated concrete mats, with embedded coquina rock just offshore. County officials say their plan to replenish the depleted shoreline makes every effort to spare unique natural reefs near the beach and that the artificial reef will compensate for any reef they bury.

A contractor expects to complete all reef placement by this fall, but reaching that goal is highly weather dependent, county officials said.

A crane this week lowered into place segments of a $10.6 million artificial reef needed to replace three acres of the offshore coquina rock that will be buried to add more sand to the beach. Shoreline Foundations Inc. last year began placing 8-by-12-foot rectangular reef segments about a quarter-mile offshore of Satellite Beach in about 15 feet of water as part of the beach renourishment project. 

The Sebastian Inlet Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has opposed the renourishment project for years, citing the environmental concerns.

County officials point to underwater photos along the new reef in the summer of 2017 — about a month after a portion of the reef went in — show fish and other marine life hanging out at the new reef. The photos from this past spring also show the marine worm, Sabellariid, has formed its characteristic bulbous “worm rock” structures along much of the new reef's surface. 

"I look at the big picture. It's a trade off, but looks like it's a good trade off," Smith said. "We've giving them another place to live, but they should flourish out there. It looks like they are flourishing."