TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — The storm that hit Pinellas County last weekend severely eroded new beach sand dunes which cost more than $26 million to reconstruct after Hurricane Idalia brushed by the coast in August.

What You Need To Know

  • The new sand dunes were eroded by weekend storms; officials say it appears half of the new dune washed away

  • It was the first time waves directly hit dunes because the beaches have become so narrow  

  • County hopes to salvage what’s left of the sand dunes and only rebuild if necessary

  • Previous story here

“There’s a little part of me that wanted to cry,” Pinellas Public Works director Kelli Levy said. “I’m not going to lie.”

For the past few months, the county has been paying for sand to be trucked in from Davenport to rebuild the dune system from the Sand Key area of Clearwater to Pass-a-Grille in St. Pete Beach. Levy said in some areas near Sunset Beach, the dunes were nearly completely washed away.

“There’s dunes down at the south end of Treasure Island on Sunset Beach that were really hit hard, that area probably more than the other areas,” she said. “The rest of the dunes pretty much from Sunset through Indian Rocks all the way up into Belleair Beach, where visually it appears that they’re about half gone.”

The county will know exactly how much sand was lost during the storm once surveyors complete their work. Levy said they were hoping the new dunes would last for at least two years because that’s how long it takes to get a federal beach renourishment permit.

“While it’s sad to see 4 months’ worth of hard work be damaged that way,” she said. “I also am incredibly appreciative that the protection that it provided those residents because without it I think we would’ve seen a lot more damage.”

Levy said the sand dunes are the only thing standing between the Gulf and homeowners. Still, more than 60 residents in Treasure Island reported flooding, according to Jason Beisel, Treasure Island spokesman.  

Michelle Gowland, 51, records videos for her YouTube channel, Echoue Bijoux, while collecting shells on Bay area beaches. Gowland said she travels from Bradenton to Sunset Beach at least twice a month to record videos.

“These are giant Atlantic cockles,” she said. “There’s lots of those washed up here.”

The sheller said right after a big storm hits is the best time to look and she was sad to see the beach erosion

“I just saw part of that dune fall… it’s surreal to be out here right now,” she said. “It’s sad to see that all of this work that has just been done is going to have to be done again.”

Levy said the county hopes to salvage what’s left of the sand dunes and only rebuild if necessary with tourist tax dollars.

“If we can in some areas just kind of grade it down a little further, grade down the accesses, so people will have access and leave the existing dune in place,” she said. “In areas where it’s completely gone, we may have to bring in more sand.”

The severely damaged dune system is connected to an ongoing battle between Pinellas County and the Army Corps of Engineers over beach renourishment and the lack of required perpetual easements from all beachfront property owners. Levy said this was the first storm where the waves directly hit the sand dunes because the beaches have become so narrow.

“We haven’t had storms hit the dune because we’ve always had a significant berm in front of it,” she said. “Well, we don’t have a berm now. So, all we had was the dune.”

Levy said it’s important people stay off the dunes over the holidays for their safety and to protect the remaining sand.

“A lot of the access points have a very sharp drop off. If you step too close to the edge, it will collapse on you,” she said. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt. Generally, stay off the dunes that are still there. We do want those areas that did not get damaged, those plants to continue to get established.”