Emergency berm proposed for Collier County beaches

Published: January 23, 2023 4:34 PM EST
Updated: January 23, 2023 6:26 PM EST

Hurricane Ian produced extreme waves and a storm surge that eroded beaches and dunes. That meant a lot of sand loss, leaving beachfront structures vulnerable.

The beaches are one of the most important things in Collier County, so maintaining them is a top priority. On Tuesday, Collier County Commissioners are set to vote on how they will handle the problem.

Monday morning was not an ideal beach day. It was overcast and rainy, but the Bowen family didn’t mind.

“It’s a good day for us because we are the only ones here. We like it that way,” said Denise Bowen.

The Bowens’ favorite thing about the beaches is the sand, but the sand remains one of the biggest problems on Collier County beaches.

Collier County coastline. (Credit: WINK News)

There’s not enough of it after the hurricane’s extreme waves and storm surge.

“During a hurricane, we can have waves, typically in excess of five or 10 meters in height, and these waves have a lot of energy, so they’re moving a lot of sand that’s at the coast,” said Chris Daly, assistant professor at the Water School at FGCU.

“We had representatives from the army corps of engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and FEMA on our beaches, all of which expressed concern due to heavy dune loss and the vulnerability of our upland structures from coastal storm flooding,” said Trinity Scott, head of the Transportation Services Department.

Collier County is scrambling to solve the problem. Something that was made clear in an exchange during a commission meeting last month between Commissioner Burt Saunders and the head of the Transportation Services Department, Trinity Scott.

Saunders: “Ok, I just wanna make sure that we don’t miss that march deadline for FEMA reimbursement.”

Scott: “We are sprinting.”

Saunders: “We want to sprint with you. So let us know what you need.”

Collier County Coastal Zone Management wants to spend $24 million to build an emergency berm, essentially rebuilding the dunes with 400,000 cubic yards of outside sand.

“If we wait on natural processes, it will take a long time, so we can help by, you know, artificially placing sand in dunes,” said Daly.

That plan to fill in the dunes with artificial sand must be complete by March to ensure a majority of the cost will be FEMA and the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

County commissioners still have to approve the project before anything can happen. They’re scheduled to vote on it on Tuesday.

There will still be work to be done after these dunes are rebuilt. Those 400,000 cubic yards of sand are only about half the amount needed for full beach renourishment.

Collier County doesn’t have time to do that by its FEMA deadline or by next hurricane season, but do plan to eventually take on that bigger project.

“What’s really important is planting, replanting the dunes so that that sand doesn’t get easily washed away when the next storm arrives. Having well-established dunes is not just putting sand, that’s the primary step, but really having the right types of plants that are growing there to keep that sand in place,” Daly said.

Daly said that is more than a year away.