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Town beaches show long-term sand gains, consultant says

Our Town with William Kelly: Town beaches show long-term sand gains, consultant says

The town’s beaches are gaining sand over the long term and are generally in good and stable condition, according to an annual report from a town coastal engineering consultant.

Palm Beach’s 12 miles of shore has experienced a net gain of 5.24 million cubic yards of sand since long-term sand volume measurements began in 1990, according to Mike Jenkins, Coastal Engineering Principal at Applied Technology and Management. (For perspective, a standard dump truck can hold anywhere from 10 to 14 cubic yards of material).

Jenkins and other officials were at Town Hall Thursday for the annual stakeholder meeting of the Palm Beach Island Beach Management Agreement. Established under Florida law in 2012, the agreement allows for a regional approach to coastal management on Palm Beach Island.

The 5.24 million cubic yards of additional sand corresponds to an average increase of 47 feet in the width of the town’s shoreline, Jenkins said. But conditions vary greatly across the eight different “reaches” or segments of shore on the island.

The 47 feet of additional beach width isn’t entirely visible. Some of it lies within the nearshore, covered by the Atlantic Ocean but still “in the system” – meaning it continues to help stabilize the beaches, Jenkins said.

“Long-term, the deficit is going down,” he said. “It’s about a third of what it was when the [Beach Management Agreement] started” in 2012.

Elevations are recorded annually at the same locations on the upper beach and in the water to measure and track the movement of sand, he said.

“We’re seeing an additional volume increase this year,” Jenkins said.

When the sand volume measurements began in 1990, the town did not have a coastal management program, and the sand transfer plant on Singer Island was not functioning, Jenkins said. The plant, which is operational today, captures downdrift sand otherwise trapped by the Palm Beach (Lake Worth) Inlet jetties and pumps it onto the northern tip of Palm Beach’s shore.

Today, the town has a mature coastal management program that includes periodic, large-scale sand nourishments at Midtown Beach and Phipps Ocean Park. By design, some of the sand deposited at those two public beaches drifts southward in the ocean current, “feeding” other sand-deprived areas of the town’s shoreline, Jenkins said. Dune restorations are also performed along some sections of the coastline.

The town also has an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for dredging the inlet’s navigation channel every two to three years, to deposit that sand onto reaches 1 and 2 of Palm Beach’s north shore.

Despite the success, most of the town’s beaches are still officially classified by the state as “critically eroded.” Many factors contribute to shore erosion, including storms and other natural forces, coastal development, seawalls and groins, and inlet jetties.

Because the sand on Palm Beach is not evenly distributed, there are areas of critical concern, Jenkins said. These include Reach 2 in the North End and Reach 8 in the South End, where officials have said an abundance of nearshore “hardbottom” marine habitat make it difficult for the town to secure state and federal environmental permits required for beach nourishments.

Just north of Sloan’s Curve is another area of historical erosion concern. There, in Reach 6, a rock revetment was installed by the Florida Department of Transportation to protect State Road A1A after the road was heavily damaged by pounding surf years ago.

In the past year, there has been some sand loss in reaches 3 and 4, which includes the area immediately south of Midtown Beach. Hurricanes Ian and Nicole contributed to the erosion there even though those storms did not directly strike the town. But that area still shows a net gain of sand over the long term, Jenkins said.

Reach 8, between the Lake Worth Municipal Beach and the South Town Limit, also shows a gain of sand over the long term, Jenkins said.

Palm Beach’s next coastal protection projects are all scheduled for fiscal year 2024-25, which begins Oct. 1, 2024. They include sand nourishments of both Midtown Beach and Phipps Ocean Park; Army Corps dredging of the Palm Beach Inlet navigation channel, with the dredged sand being deposited onto reaches 1 and 2; and dune restorations in reaches 2, 7 and 8, Jenkins said.

The other speakers at Thursday’s meeting were Lainie Edwards, deputy director for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection; Robbin Trindell, biological administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; and Cheryl Miller, president of Coastal Eco-Group.

Edwards said the Palm Beach Island Beach Management Agreement is the only one of its kind in Florida. In all, it includes 15.7 miles of inlet-to-inlet shoreline, divided into 11 reaches. Of that, 13 miles is critically eroded, she said.

The beach management agreement was created to allow for a streamlined approach to environmental reviews and approvals for coastal protection projects, which are permitted on a project-by-project basis.

The four partners are the state DEP, Town of Palm Beach, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Palm Beach County.

Ecosystem benefits include improved inlet management, outfall retrofits, and cell-wide monitoring of sea turtle and shorebird nesting activity and nearshore hardbottom habitat.

“This can lead to better management decisions,” Edwards said.

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