Artificial reef would allow sand pumping

Critics: Project won't draw fish

BY JIM WAYMER
FLORIDA TODAY


Eroded. Susan Ross walks along the beach near DeSoto Parkway in Satellite Beach last month where rocks are exposed. FLORIDA TODAY file
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The Trainas watch waves lap ever closer with each high tide, wondering why the government denies them sand just because of some rocks, turtles, fish and worms.

"That was not disclosed to us that we had 'worm rock,' " Pat Traina said of the controversial reef just offshore from the Satellite Beach condo she and her husband bought a year-and-a-half ago.

"We're like on the edge of a precipice here, just hoping some horrendous series of storms don't come along and put us in the ocean."

Coastal engineers say the only way to give the Trainas and others along Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach a wide, sandy beachfront is to cover over the existing natural reef with sand.

And the federal government will only allow that if they build a new, artificial reef to replace the old one. Since 1996, the reef has been protected as important habitat by federal law, and that has prevented rebuilding of the eroded beach.

Brevard County is suggesting the way to do that is with an $8 million to $11 million system of offshore "marine mattresses," topped with huge limestone boulders.

Critics of the plan fear such an artificial reef won't draw as many fish as the natural reef, which serves as prime grounds for shrimp, crabs, grouper, snapper, sea turtles and a marine worm that fish love to eat.

The debate pits oceanfront property owners against fishermen, surfers and biologists who worry politics is trumping sound science. They say reefs designed by engineers can't match nature's.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Terry Parsons, 62, who helps run Wabasso Bait and Tackle, a family-owned bait shop.

Several years ago, the shop posted a large sign that reads: "No sand pumping," in opposition to an Indian River County beach renourishment project that used similar artificial limestone reefs.

"They're just going to dump a bunch of rocks out there and hope for the best," Parsons said of Brevard County's project. "Anywhere you go after they've had a beach renourishing project, the fishing is awful."

Engineers unsure

Brevard applied last month for a federal permit to pump 1.8 million cubic yards of sand onto 7.6 miles of beach in 2009.

The plan includes burying 2.4 to 5.6 acres of the near-shore coquina rock reef, but it could affect up to 11 acres of the roughly 61 acres of scattered reef that extends from Patrick Air Force Base through Indian Harbour Beach.

Coastal engineers aren't sure yet how to make up for the rocky reef habitat the project would bury.

Brevard's consultant on the project proposes to set limestone rocks -- ranging from 1.2 to 9 tons -- in three zones about 1,000 feet offshore.

The plans for the artificial reef are preliminary and likely to change significantly, said Kevin Bodge, a coastal engineer for Olsen Associates Inc., the Jacksonville firm consulting with the county.

"You can't rebuild this stuff right in the surf zone because it's extremely difficult to get heavy equipment there," he said.

Concrete solution

Lee Harris, a coastal engineer at Florida Tech who also advises the Army Corps of Engineers on the project, thinks another type of artificial reef might work better.

"You use big limestone boulders, you're not really providing that much habitat," Harris said. "That's a lot of rocks, and that's going to be expensive."

Harris uses a custom concrete to recreate reefs.

"That could look just like the reef there now," he said. "We're using limestone rock as the aggregate. We actually anchor them into the sea bottom."

One such reef he worked on in the Caribbean survived hurricanes Ivan and Wilma intact, he said.

"Our anchoring system has held in shallow water, four to five feet of water even," he said.

Whitewash

Despite the plans for an artificial reef, sport fishermen have blasted the renourishment plan.

In a letter to the Corps, editors of Florida Sportsman and Shallow Water Angler magazines called for alternatives, including a moratorium on beachfront development.

They point to recent studies, such as one by Charles Peterson, an ecologist with the University of North Carolina, that show that permitting agencies and consultants whitewash the environmental impacts of beach renourishment by using scientifically flawed monitoring.

"The principle of taking what is a flat, extensive bed rock and replacing it with chunks that can move raises some scientific concern," Peterson said.

Dredging effects

Residents along Indian Harbour and Satellite beaches say the federal government owes them sand to make up for worsening the erosion when the Corps dredged Port Canaveral in the 1950s. But coastal engineers say it's tough to prove the port's erosive effects extend that far south.

Donald Krause, who lives in an oceanfront condominium in Satellite Beach, thinks the government should arm the edge of the dune with rocks the size of cars, like they do in Hawaii.

"My opinion is that we're wasting our time with a lot of the sand because it's washing away," Krause said. "You have to use something that doesn't wash away, and the most likely thing to use is rocks."

While environmental rules would make that a difficult proposition, oceanfront residents such as the Trainas wonder when some sort of relief will begin, and all the talk of sea turtles, fish and marine worms will end.

"We feel like there's a lot of concern about the environment and not enough concern about the people who live along the beach," Ben Traina said.

Contact Waymer at 242-3663 or jwaymer@flatoday.net