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Florida Fairways

Artificial reef work to begin soon

By Henry A. Stephens staff writer
May 8, 2004

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY The first barge loaded with limestone boulders from Broward and Lee counties is expected to arrive later this month off the shore of Vero Beach, where its crew will start work on a 5.2-acre artificial reef .

"The boulders are being stockpiled in Fort Pierce as we speak," county Coastal Resource Manager Jonathan Gorham said Friday.

The artificial reef is intended to offset destruction to a natural reef by the county's Sebastian-Ambersand beach-restoration project last year.

The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered the new reef after the county had placed 545,000 cubic yards of sand south of the Sebastian Inlet to combat erosion there.

Part of that sand, state officials said, would cover 3.8 acres of the natural reef, smothering marine life.

Hard-bottom reefs are not the colorful coral reefs of South Florida, familiar to viewers of documentary shows. Rather, they are mostly rock, but provide a home to sea urchins, sea cucumbers, lobsters, various fish and other creatures.

Gorham said he expects the first boulder-laden barge to leave the Fort Pierce docks the week of May 17, followed by numerous trips until 50,000 tons of limestone boulders are placed 200 yards off shore at a depth of 16 to 20 feet underwater, starting about 1,000 feet south of South Beach Park and stretching farther south.

Wilkinson & Jenkins Construction Co. of St. Petersburg won a $2 million contract from the county to do the job. The DEP is paying 75 percent of the cost, with the rest paid by the county.

Gorham said the contractor has hired a Fort Pierce subcontractor, McCulley Marine Services, for the barge work.

McCulley officials couldn't be reached for comment, by Gorham said the company's first step so far has been to reinforce the barge decks with concrete. The boulders would have been too heavy for the decking otherwise, he said.

When the company gets about one third of the material placed, Gorham said, the barges will start including a different cargo 25 "reef balls," hollow concrete domes made by Vero Beach High School instructor Sue DeBlois' environmental science class.

DeBlois said she hopes her students who are in town for the summer will get the chance to watch the action from shore.

"And after McCulley drops the reef balls, we'll have divers from the (county Fire Rescue Division) place them in the arrangement we have designed," she said.

The reef balls are designed to provide habitat for fish, lobsters and other marine life. The class made them under sponsorship of the Reef Ball Foundation as a class project.

Gorham has said the artificial reef couldn't go in off Ambersand Beach because of the existing near-shore reefs there. South Beach doesn't have natural reefs near shore.

- henry.stephens@scripps.com

At a glance

Material: 50,000 tons of limestone boulders, each one 2 1/2 to 5 feet in diameter.

Location: 200 yards offshore, starting 1,500 feet south of South Beach Park.

Size: 5.2 acres.

Expected start of work: The week of May 17.

Cost: $4.2 million, with $3.15 million from the state and $1.05 million from the county.

Contractor: Wilkinson & Jenkins Construction Co., St. Petersburg.

Barge subcontractor: McCulley Marine Services, Fort Pierce.



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