Collier County’s 2023 Emergency Berm Project is expected to begin the first week of April. The project, approved by county commissioners in January in response to major sand loss due to Hurricane Ian, will place 20-to-30-feet-wide, knee-high berms along the county’s coast.
Naples City Council discussed this week how the project will be carried out and how it will affect the city’s livelihood.
The berm, receiving sand from Stewart Mining in Immokalee, will be completed in four phases. Phase one will begin at the Naples Beach Club area and continue south. The project is expected to take around 70 days, finishing by Memorial Day weekend.
Surveys were completed in October and December to determine how much sand was needed to construct the berms based on how much sand the beach had at the time. The berms require a total of 500,000 cubic yards of sand, which will cost the county about $25 million. However, those numbers are anticipated to change as surveyors are measuring sand totals again this week. Collier County Director of Coastal Zone Management Andrew Miller said the new cost, approved to be taken out of the county’s Tourism Development Tax Fund, will be at about $9 million.
“We came in under budget mainly because the quantities that we measured back in October, November were revised to the point where they were significantly lower than we initially had proposed,” Miller said.
There will be about 200 trucks operating each day during the project from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Naples City Council member Michael McCabe wants to ensure the trucks don’t arrive on-site any earlier than scheduled.
“We need, from the city’s perspective, the police to probably in the first couple of days make sure that the trucks know that it is [7 a.m.] because the last time they literally were coming in at 5:30, 6 in the morning. And the conversation had to be had that they started compiling up at Publix and then start coming into the neighborhoods at 7 a.m.,” he said. “Because that’s a bit early, starting to hear those trucks at 5:30.”
As sea turtle season starts May 1, council member Beth Petrunoff asked what protocols will be in case a truck encounters a sea turtle nest near where a berm needs to be placed.
“We’ll clear the beach prior to every morning before we go out and flag any nest that appears. And if the nest is within or around our construction area, we’ll probably build up to the nests and there’s a certain distance from the nest you’re allowed to disturb, but otherwise we’ll just leave a gap,” Miller said. “We’ll probably put enough sand there to fill the gap and then when the turtles hatch, we’ll just push that sand right into the gap and be done. So that’s where we’re going to work it barring a turtle lining up right at our access point where we might have to relocate it. That would be just our luck but we hope that doesn’t happen.”
Establishing plantings on the berms, helping stabilize the new sand, is not part of this project. Miller said that is due to April and May being the best months to begin planting, which interferes with the task of implementing the berms themselves.
“We’ll get these plants so that they’re ready to plant right before next wet season, so next April or May we’ll be putting them in the ground, so they’ll be healthy and viable,” Miller said. “Then, hopefully, we’ll get some rains right after we put them in the ground.”
Miller will be communicating and working with residents who have already initiated their own planting efforts on their private property along the beach.
“If there has been some effort from private property owners to go ahead and establish dune vegetation, we’re not going to go in and bury it. We’re going to work around it,” Miller said. “That goes up to a point. If we want the berm to go straight, we don’t want to put a big kink in it. So, we’ll work with the property owners to hopefully make that issue a non-issue.”
Council member Ray Christman is disappointed there will be no planting involved with this project and hopes the proper plants are selected when vegetation is placed on the beach.
“I think [no plantings] puts this project at risk. If we have unfortunate storm conditions this summer and fall, a lot of the work that will be done will be for naught,” Christman said. “What concerns me now most is that we actually have a plan that’s going to be implemented to make sure those vegetative plantings are available next spring for planting as you suggested and that the vegetative plantings that we decide upon are done in a way that is both structurally and aesthetically the best we can do.”
Coastal Zone Management has been in contact with the Naples Botanical Gardens to receive their input on the best type of vegetation to stabilize the berms and is considering creating a taskforce for the plantings, Miller said.
Although this is a big step in restoring Collier’s beaches from hurricane damage, there is still a long way to go to get the beaches back to standard. Miller said it could take up to five years to replenish the entire beach.
“Mother nature tends to help out sometimes during the summer, so if we get really lucky a lot of sand that Ian took offshore is going to come back,” Miller said. “If not, we’ll have to take our time over the next three to five [years] to build them back to where they were.”
Council member Ted Blankenship asked residents and tourists to be patient with the more than two month-long process of restoring berms.
“I would just encourage all of our residents to be patient with the truck haul and when you’re on the beach, looking out for the trucks that are moving up and down and moving the sand around,” Blankenship said. “It’s a short time but it will have a big benefit for us in the long run.”