By Pamela Nicholls, GSAC Board Member
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While County Commissioners approved the expenditure of $24m tourist development tax fund dollars for the emergency berm project at their meeting on January 24, a start date on restoring the miles of berm on public beaches from North Naples to Marco Island, is far from certain.

City Councilors had been hopeful that trucks carrying the 400,000 cubic yards necessary to create the 30 ft wide and 3ft high berm would begin hauling by mid-February at the latest, but the plan for dune restoration is still in the design phase.

Coastal Zone manager Andy Miller told members of the Coastal Advisory Committee on February 9 that he was in the process of reviewing the final engineering documents and that no contracts had yet been awarded.

It’s likely now that a project start date might not be until the end of the month or early March and could “leak into mid-March” pushing the end date out into May.

Miller said he hoped construction will have made “pretty serious progress” by March 29, the original completion deadline to qualify for federal funding, but that it was inevitable an extension to the FEMA deadline would be needed.

“We have been told unofficially, there’s nothing in writing, that if we are showing a good faith effort, we have trucks rolling and we’re building on the beach, the chances are pretty good they will grant us that extension,” he assured commissioners.

FEMA is expected to contribute 75% of eligible overall costs.

He also told commissioners that his department was working closely with conservation agencies to safeguard nesting turtles. “There are avenues to do work during turtle season,” which begins May 1st. “They are just more complicated and more expensive.”

When the project does get underway the plan is to start with Park Shore and Naples Beaches – from Clam Pass to Gordon Pass – where the largest volume of sand was lost during the Category 4 hurricane. Miller said that beach elevations dropped about 2 ½ ft after Ian battered the coast on September 28.

The emergency berm is just the start in the long-term process of rebuilding Collier’s beaches.

Along with tons of sand, a massive amount of vegetation was swept away by the hurricane. Dune re-planting is included in the restoration plan, according to Miller but the timeframe is not certain. “We’re concentrating on the emergency berm and then major re-nourishment. Dune plantings may need to wait until berm and beach construction is finished.”

He said dunes on private property are to be planted as long as easements are in place.