BRADENTON BEACH – Three erosion control structures, including two that form the popular “twin piers” surf spot, are likely to be demolished in 2014, according to Manatee County.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has notified the county that its permit for the beach renourishment scheduled in 2014 will require the demolition of the crumbling structures, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county’s Conservation Lands Management Department.
“That’ll ruin the surfing down there,” said Jim Brady, owner of the West Coast Surf Shop, who has surfed the spot since the 1960s. “That’s the second best surf spot on the Island besides White (Avenue). They ought to at least put one back in.”
The surf spot is an important recreational outlet for youth, said longtime Anna Maria Island surfer John Castro, 33, who asked The Sun about the future of twin piers after noticing during his Thanksgiving visit that the Manatee public beach pier had been demolished.
“Kids can go there and surf instead of getting in trouble,” he said. “If I didn’t have that, I would have gotten into bad things.”
The county will try to save the northernmost structure, not for surfers, but to provide some protection for Gulf Drive, Hunsicker said, adding that the odds are about 50/50 that the groin can be saved.
The county would have to prove to DEP that it helps hold the beach together, and would have to rebuild the deteriorating structure, he said.
“We believe that if tested during a real storm, the structure would go a long way to protecting Gulf Drive,” said Hunsicker, who plans to consult with the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) before the county applies for its beach renourishment permit in 2013.
DOT is willing to work with the county on the permit, spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons-Adente said.
“State Road 789 (Gulf Drive) is our facility,” she said. “To get the permit approved, it would be beneficial if they have our participation.”
Solid versus permeable – the groin debate
The erosion and accumulation of sand on Anna Maria Island’s shores has been a natural process of give and take longer than anyone can remember.
But after some homes were lost to erosion and the Gulf began encroaching on Gulf Drive, solid erosion control groins were installed along Cortez Beach, now within the city of Bradenton Beach, said Kent Chetlain, a former Manatee County commissioner and renowned local historian.
The now-defunct Island anti-erosion board, which had the power to levy taxes, built the solid rock and cement groins, called “rip rap” groins, from the beach out into the Gulf of Mexico at right angles to the beach.
The solid groins tended to build up sand on the side facing prevailing currents, but caused it to be lost from the other side, he said, forcing a row of the groins to be built all the way up and down the beach, like dominoes.
Around the 1960s, the county installed something new on Cortez Beach - permeable groins, he said.
Like mangroves, the state’s natural beach builder, permeable groins build up sand on the side of the groin facing the current but also allow sand to pass through, keeping erosion from occurring on the opposite side.
The three existing permeable groins - the two northernmost ones now known as “twin piers” - were patterned after the late engineer Sidney Makepeace Wood’s original design, said Chetlain, one of several longtime area residents who are quick to point out the successful track record of permeable groins.
Chetlain recalls Wood’s prediction that the then-existing solid groins – which were later removed in the early 1990s beach renourishment – would block the normal currents and cause his permeable groins to be less effective.
Still, they worked, he said.
“Those things did stop the erosion,” Brady agreed. “I don’t see why they’re taking them out.”
Others who support permeable groins include Dr. M. J. "Murf" Klauber, chairman of the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, who has testified to the Longboat Key Commission about the success of the groins on his property.
“Colony Beach was about to lose its swimming pool, so they went out and built their own groins and they eventually got buried in the sand they attracted, they worked so well,” Chetlain said, adding that the Colony has gone to court and successfully prevented the groins from being removed.
Wood turned his plans over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees beach renourishment, said Chetlain, who recalls Wood telling him that the Corps did not use his plans for the same reason that the Russians beat America in the space race.
“Bureaucracy,” he said.
“Those groins are the best thing ever. It’s a crime that people in the erosion business don’t embrace it,” Chetlain said. “This knowledge has been lost. You have erosion engineers today that have never been exposed to Wood. The people who learned the lessons die off and the next generation knows nothing about it.”
Two generations after they were installed, “Who would remember?” Hunsicker asked. “But we don’t have to remember. The structures are still protecting the shoreline.”
Another proponent of the groins is environmentalist Tom Mayers, who has witnessed drastic erosion all his life in his front yard at Land’s End on the shores of Longboat Pass, less than a mile from twin piers.
“DEP took out a lot of things on Longboat Key, and now they’re having problems. They took out a lot of the old jetties in hot spots,” he said.
Dozens of solid groins were removed in Longboat Key’s beach renourishment in the mid-1990s, said Juan Florensa, public works director for the Town of Longboat Key.
“In the 1950s and 60s, groins were used extensively, perhaps overused,” he said. “Coastal engineers found out it was not the silver bullet for every erosion issue. DEP is very careful about permitting these structures now.”
The town is currently building two permeable adjustable groins based on the Wood concept at the Islander condo on Longboat Key, he said.
Meanwhile, the three groins in Bradenton Beach are deteriorating and have been a hazard for some time.
When the county was sued for liability two decades ago by a woman who had fallen on one of the structures, the county blocked pedestrian access to them, but surfers continued to use them, Chetlain said.
“The surfers love them,” he said. “What the county ought to do is fix those things up and make them safe so that surfers and fishermen can use them.”
Twin piers needs to be protected for the future enjoyment of surfers, especially young people, said Castro, who thinks that beach renourishment already has claimed too many surf spots.
“When I was growing up they started beach renourishment,” he said, which ruined underwater features that cause waves to break. “They blasted sand over a couple natural reefs in Bradenton Beach, and a mile south of the (Manatee) pier they knocked down reefs. I’ve seen what renourishment really does. The reality is they’re tearing up natural reefs. They need to be protected.”
“Pump and dredge is not the answer,” Chetlain agreed. “The answer is to work with nature to allow sand to accumulate on both sides of a structure, like mangroves.”
“I want to do my part to try to save twin piers,” Castro said. “They’ve been there since the surfer generation before us, and it’s something worth fighting for.”
Cindy Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.