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Tropical Storm Eta Pounded Pinellas Beaches, Fears Aired Over Future Storms

Bulldozers nourish a beach in Pinellas County
Pinellas County
Bulldozers re-nourish a beach in Pinellas County

Tropical Storm Eta caused considerable beach erosion on the Gulf Coast. It may mean our coastline is in danger from a future storm.

Massive erosion of dunes from Tropical Storms Eta and Hermine has left many beaches exposed if another storm hits.

John Bishop, coastal management coordinator for Pinellas County, says on Indian Shores, you can see how the sand has dropped two feet on piers leading into the water.

And at Pass-a-Grille, he says 16 feet of dunes were wiped out by the Eta.

As much as half a million cubic yards of sand were washed away.

There won't be any help coming quickly from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is not planning any beach nourishment projects until 2023 at the earliest.

"Without that storm damage protection there, we are wide open," he said. "We have winter fronts, where we get a lot of our erosion traditionally, and next summer, there'll be another hurricane season."

There are three Army Corps of Engineer beach nourishment projects planned in Treasure Island, Sand Key, and St. Pete Beach. There are easements in place where workers can get to the first two, but Bishop says they're having difficulty reaching beachfronts in Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, and Reddington Shores. So those beaches that need help may not get repaired.

Bishop says on Sunset Beach, a nourishment project from 2018 that was supposed to last six years is basically gone.

"The beach nourishment, which is a very effective way of trying to combat storm damage, erosion, build a nice beach — it's natural, provides habitat — in places like Sunset, the past nourishments have only lasted two years," he said. "So if full nourishment projects are lasting only two years, I don't know that other things are going to help."

Bishop says scientists from the University of South Florida are doing studies of the beachfront to see what priorities need to be tackled first.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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