Irma causes erosion on Pinellas Co. beaches

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Hurricane Irma didn't just leave behind wind and flood damage. The storm also took some things with it, like sand. Parts of coastal Pinellas County suffered what an official calls "considerable sand losses." But, there's help on the way.

Buddy Brown walks Indian Rocks Beach 5 days a week. "I look forward to it every morning, coming out here," Brown said.

But, since Hurricane Irma blew through, it's been different. Less sand, more surf. "We've lost at least, I'd say half the beach," Brown said.

Tuesday evening when we stopped by, it was low tide. But, photos taken by Brown showed what it looked like just a few hours earlier. From the dunes to the waterline, there was room for one lane of beach towels and one lane of walkers.

"It's heartbreaking," Brown said. "I worked my whole life to be able to come out here and walk."

Over at Cay Point Villa, Resident Manager Carol McDowell can see and feel the difference, too.

"In the middle when you walk, it was crunchy. Yuck," McDowell said. "The sand is not as fluffy anymore. It just stripped the sand right from the beach."

We asked Pinellas County Coastal Resources Manager Andy Squires about it. He said the beaches experienced a very significant sand loss, comparable to Hurricane Hermine.

USF Coastal Research Lab is currently surveying beaches in more than 100 locations. While the majority of losses occurred in the lower portions of beaches, called the "brim," they are finding the dunes to be mostly intact.  Squires said it's still too early for them to release any official data on their findings. He said that'll likely be available next week.

If there's any good news, it's that the county has a project in the works for Sand Key Nourishment. It'll include 900,000 cubic yards of sand from Clearwater Pass to Redington Beach. It was initially estimated to cost around $32 million dollars but with additional sand loss from Irma, Squires said the contract with the Army Corps of Engineers may need to be modified.

"The sand's all gone. And, we need dredging bad because there's no beach left.," said Lori Glenn of Indian Rocks Beach.

The project may begin in November or later. But, for those who depend on the beach for their business, they'd like to see it start sooner than that.

"I know that we need sand. There's a lot of pros and cons on beach renourishment but for goodness sake, if you're going to do it, do it was soon as possible," McDowell said.

"Sand would be nice. The little kids shouldn't be walking on rocks. I know it's Indian Rocks Beach but let's not push it," McDowell laughed.

Brown said, "I want them to get out here right away and get this dredging project started before the season starts so that these small businesses out here aren't the ones that are going to suffer."