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Rallying for the Reef

Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach Locals Protest Beach Protection Project

Satellite+Beach%27s+worm-rock+reef%2C++pictured+above%2C+will+soon+be+covered+by+a+controversial+beach+renourishment+project.
Satellite Beach's worm-rock reef,  pictured above, will soon be covered by a controversial beach renourishment project.

Satellite Beach's worm-rock reef, pictured above, will soon be covered by a controversial beach renourishment project.

Photo Credit Sara Cassidy

Photo Credit Sara Cassidy

Satellite Beach's worm-rock reef, pictured above, will soon be covered by a controversial beach renourishment project.

Izzy Carvalho and Trey Ecker

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On an early June morning, Sara Cassidy was taking her daily stroll down the beach when she spotted a barge interrupting the Satellite Beach horizon. Curious, she ventured over to the beach access off of Pelican Beach Park where she discovered that her hometown’s rare worm rock reefs were soon to be covered by an upcoming beach renourishment project.“They have a sign out there and I kind of read about it briefly and then when I got home I watched the videos and read more about it.” Cassidy was stunned as she learned more about the project. “I was devastated. I was crying the first two days. My husband was like ‘I can’t believe you’re crying over this’ but it hit home really really hard. The next day I woke up feeling like a family member had passed away.”

“The next day I woke up feeling like a family member had passed away”

Cassidy was heart-broken that the reefs lining her beloved beach were soon to be covered. “I’ve lived in Satellite and Indian Harbor my whole life. [I remember] exploring the reef with my dad. He would always take us and he didn’t know about the worm reef so we would be walking all over it. We used to go to the beach a lot, so [I have] lots of memories [on the reef]. I feel like it’s a big chunk of our hometown; it’s the heart of the beach and I’m really passionate about marine life and the environment and just protecting our beaches. I feel like putting a manmade structure will disturb mother nature on a huge level.”

Cassidy was not the only Satellite Beach local upset by the seemingly sudden appearance of the barge. Many took to Facebook, mainly that of the unofficial Satellite Beach page, to voice their grievances. “So, we’re lucky enough to have a “rare reef,” a unique ecosystem home to a myriad of sea creatures, yet we’re going to cover it up with sand? Beaches are dynamic, ever changing, naturally moving and adjusting as tides and storms shape them. We need to learn to honor this natural flux by restricting construction of manmade features, and conserving/preserving the dunes which organically impede erosion. This beach re-nourishment projects are  [sic] expensive and unnecessary, in my opinion,” posted Anne Sims.

Another local, Rick Wertz, posted “Why can’t they just reinforce the dune and leave the beach and the reefs alone?  Did they even look at this approach? We don’t WANT a wide beach because it’s never been a wide beach historically. We don’t WANT to draw thousands of tourists here every year. This past winter/spring was the busiest I’ve ever seen it and hopefully that isn’t a sign of things to come.”

Despite the shock amongst locals after the commencement of this project, the Brevard County Mid-Reach Shore Protection Project is not a recent development. “There’s been seven years of public hearings and newspaper articles and Facebook posts. It’d be hard pressed to find somebody didn’t know about this project. So when people say that we snuck it in, I have a hard time swallowing that accusation because this is probably one of the most publicized beach renourishment projects I’ve ever seen in my life,” states Courtney Barker, Satellite Beach City Manager.

In 1996, the entirety of Brevard County’s beaches were studied in the “Feasibility Report with Final Environmental Impact Statement for Brevard County”. The study prefaced the implementation of the Brevard County Shore Protection Project,  an initiative by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and Brevard County in an effort to “reduce the damages caused by erosion and coastal storms […] while maintaining the recreational use of nearshore areas, and maintaining environmental qualities”. The project, drafted in 1996, concerned three different beach reaches of Brevard County.

The North Reach, which stretches from Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral south to the northern limit of Patrick Air Force Base, began on August 28, 2000. The plan for this particular reach, contrived by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and their sponsor, Brevard County, consisted of placing 2.8 million cubic yards of sand along the 9.4 mile reach. The North Reach of the Brevard County Shore Protection Project was completed on April 9, 2001, just a mere seven months after the approval of the project.

The South Reach, which stretches from Flug Avenue in Indialantic south to Spessard Holland Park in Melbourne Beach, had their project’s funds allocated as part of the 2001-2002 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill on October 31, 2001. The project officially began when the construction contract was awarded by the US. Army Corps of Engineers in December 20, 2001. Residents of the South Reach welcomed the news of the renourishment project as erosion on the shoreline of the beach threatened many of the residences, according to the Brevard County Natural Resources Beaches Program website. The plan for this reach consisted of placing 1.2 million cubic yards of sand along the 3.8 mile reach. The South Reach of the Brevard County Shore Protection Project was completed on April 30, 2003.

However, the Mid-Reach portion of Brevard county was denied from the Brevard County Shore Protection Project due to “environmental concerns,” namely concerns of “impacts to the nearshore hardbottom.” The coquina rock outcrops, otherwise referred to as “worm rock,” is classified as an “Essential Fish Habitat” by the National Marine Fisheries Service. According to the Brevard County Natural Resources Beaches Program website, “while these areas do provide habitat for a tube-forming polychaete worms, these rocks also offer shelter, food, and breeding areas for a variety of species, including fish, marine turtles, and attached plants and animals.” While opponents of the projects are primarily concerned about this habitat being destroyed by the reef covering, the website claims that “over geologic time, the coquina rock outcrops have withstood variations in sea level that have caused them to be alternately buried and exposed.”

Despite the Mid-Reach of Brevard County being denied inclusion in the 1996 plan, a General Re-evaluation Report was authorized by the Water Resources Development Act in 2000 to determine whether the Mid-Reach could be added into the project. The General Re-evaluation Report recommends a plan that “consists of a small-scale beach fill [with an] approximate volume of sand [of] 573,000 cubic yards [and is] anticipated to impact approximately 3.0 acres of nearshore rock hardbottom by direct and indirect cover”. The report also states that “the plan will be constrained by the need to avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental impacts to the nearshore hardbottom which is unique to this region.”

The General Re-evaluation Report states that they will develop “articulated concrete mats with imbedded coquina stone as the mitigation system for impacted hard ground rock.” According to a press release, provided by Mike McGarry, Beaches Program Manager, states that “the sites will form approximately 4.8 acres of reef area constructed to mitigate up to three acres of nearshore coquina rock reef which may be impacted by sand during future beach restoration work by the Corps.  Although the future beach work will focus on avoiding nearshore rock during sand placement, some rock (less than 10 percent) may be covered by sand as the beach equilibrates.”

The General Re-evaluation was completed in 2012 and has since been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Brevard County also has obtained State and Federal permits allowing them limited sand placement along the Mid-Reach and burial for up to three acres of worm rock.

The projected cost of the project will be 43 million dollars, according to Barker. “Twenty-two percent of the total cost of this project is being paid for by the Bed Tax, the rest of the money is coming from state and federal funds and [those] are allocated specifically for beach renourishment projects.” Many locals, such as the unofficial Satellite Beach Facebook page, claim that “only 1.7 million of the 42 million [has been allocated towards the project and] it still isn’t fully funded.” However, Barker clarifies. “The state and the national legislators that have been working to get those funds allocated. They’re not just going to stop now. We’ve already spent money to put in the reef, we’ve already spent an enormous amount of money on engineering and permitting, in the millions, and they’re not going to scrap that now. The counties already did allocate that money. In the state and federal government they have to pass a budget this  year and [this project] will be in that budget.”

“They’re not just going to stop now. We’ve already spent money to put in the reef, we’ve already spent an enormous amount of money on engineering and permitting, in the millions, and they’re not going to scrap that now.”

Many locals, however, are upset that these funds are being allocated towards the Brevard County Shore Protection Project as opposed to helping the Indian River Lagoon. Facebook page Take Back Our Water posts “[The Brevard County Shore Protection Project] is not our tax dollars well-spent. Funds to restore the IRL would be much more appropriate – like planting mangroves, placing new oyster reefs, transplanting seagrass, funding a water-testing campaign to keep track of water health (so locals and tourists don’t get sick from swimming in the water). The list goes on.”

According to Barker, the funds allocated could not be used to support to the Indian River Lagoon, as many locals had hoped. “It’s the tourism industry that funds this and the tax, by statute, can only be used for tourism related issues. […] We cannot use that money legally for muck removal, storm water projects, all of those types of projects that we would do to restore the lagoon. My problem with [this misconception] is we’re going to go ruin the idea of collecting money to to restore the lagoon by selling a fake idea that we can actually use that money for the lagoon when we can’t. We are very supportive of the Indian River Lagoon tax and I actually stood on the side of the road waving signs for that tax and the council is very supportive of that.”

Although it may seem as though locals have a slim chance of stopping this project, many locals continue to fight. On July 2nd, only a few days after many locals began speaking up against the project, a petition was created on Change.org by Karen Webber. The petition urges Brevard County Commissioners and other entities involved to halt their work.

“It’s not to [sic] late to stop this project! 95% of the Residents in this area do not want to see this reef destroyed by covering it with sand. Please help us stop this project, and the damage to our natural resources it will cause,” Webber states. “The Ecological Importance of the Intertidal Sabellariid Reef [sic] is huge to our area. An examination of the organisms living within small worm clumps collected from the reef, revealed a number of invertebrates including various mollusks, crabs, shrimp and echinoids. The worm reefs host dozens of species of fish, including grunts, snappers, snook, and tarpon. The inhabitants of OUR NATURAL REEF, will not be the same as the artificial reef being placed offshore. The algae and food source will no longer be there for shorebirds and other marine creatures.” As of publishing this article, the petition has 5,373 supporters.

“[The public’s outcry is] understandable because I think a lot of people react to a lot of misinformation,” comments Barker. “In the petition that went out, everything in there was incorrect. There wasn’t one statement in there that was correct. So when when you read that, if I didn’t know what I know, I would have signed it too. But the funding source was incorrect, the timing was incorrect, the fact that they wrote that the Jetty has no impact on the erosion is incorrect. There was a major lawsuit that was won based on those facts and that issue has been well studied and established. So there’s a lot of misinformation that was in that petition so I can understand the fear.”

“There’s a lot of misinformation that was in that petition so I can understand the fear”

Another initiative by locals to bring awareness to the worm rock reefs has been to be painting rocks and leaving them around the beach. “People all throughout Brevard are painting rocks and they leave them around town and they find them and they post them [on Facebook]. I started painting rocks saying ‘protect worm reef’ because at low tide I noticed so many people were walking on it and there’s no signs that tell them to not walk on the reef and stuff so I thought I could throw some rocks out and maybe get somewhere with it. When I found out about [the Brevard County Shore Protection Project] I thought ‘Hey, that would be a good way to kind of promote awareness.’”

Despite the outcry and protests among local citizens along the Mid-Reach, the barge continues to float alongside Pelican Beach Park and continue its work without hesitation. “Certainly every time we mess with nature there’s a consequence to that and there’s always an unknown of what will happen and I can understand that,” states Barker. “But we also know for a fact what will happen if we don’t do anything and that is a reality that nobody wants to deal with either.”

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