JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Historic Egmont Key will soon receive critical sand thanks to maintenance on the Tampa Harbor channel. The small island has experienced large-scale erosion and structural damage on its western shoreline.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District awarded a $10,293,100 contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company of Oak Brook, Ill., to perform maintenance dredging of the Tampa Harbor Egmont and Mullet Key channel cuts.
The project plans include beneficially placing dredged sand to help protect historic structures on Egmont Key. In 2014, the Corps also installed geotextile tubes and sand on Egmont Key to help stabilize the beach.
The maintenance will remove up to 565,000 cubic yards of shoaled sand along 17 miles of channel to improve navigation safety. The Corps anticipates operations will start in late October or early November and continue for roughly five months.
Sand placement will start in the center of Egmont Key’s west side, which is currently the most severely eroded portion of the island, said Corps Project Engineer Tony Castro. After the center is stabilized, the operation will move to the north end of the island and begin filling southward to cover the geotextile tubes.
Throughout operations, channel maintenance work will include turbidity monitoring to help ensure water quality standards are met and endangered species observers to help protect marine wildlife. If sea turtles are numerous in the navigation channel, they may be relocated through the use of closed-net trawling.
Egmont Key is home to gopher tortoises, nesting sea turtles, nesting shorebirds and wintering migratory birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Park Service monitor wildlife activities there and also help ensure the safety of boaters and other visitors who enjoy a variety of recreation activities.
As a result of shoreline erosion, however, there’s only a slim beach on the west side of the island for sea turtles to nest. Placing sand there in the early part of the winter season provides time for wave action on the beach to naturally sort the sand and silt, said Aubree Hershorin, Ph.D., project biologist. “This is important, because it ensures the beach is as suitable as possible for nesting sea turtles that will begin using the area in April.”
Although the dredged sand is not an exact match to that found on Egmont Key, the beneficial placement is supported by the Corps, NOAA Fisheries, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and local agencies.
"Reusing dredge sand from the local area will benefit the ecosystem surrounding Egmont Key in many ways," said Mark Sramek, a habitat conservation biologist for NOAA Fisheries. "It will protect some of Tampa Bay's most important living marine resources, as well as provide shoreline stabilization to protect the island's historic and cultural resources."
Historic structures that are in peril include portions of Fort Dade, an 1899 coastal defense system that was completed in 1906. The island is also home to a lighthouse built in 1858 and still in use today. A number of state, federal and private entities actually own and manage Egmont Key, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Tampa Bay Pilots.
“We all recognize that islands naturally move, in this case westerly. Storms and wave action will continue eroding the shoreline and eventually destroy the historic structures. We’d like to continue to beneficially use the dredged sand to help preserve Egmont’s cultural and natural environment as long as possible for future generations,” said Project Manager Brandon Burch.
In partnership with the Florida Park Service, the Egmont Key Alliance (a non-profit organization) is hosting a “Discover the Island” event Nov. 3-4 that includes re-enactments, nature and history tours, presentations, artists, games, food, and more. Located in the mouth of Tampa Bay, Egmont Key is accessible only by ferry or private boat. Day passes to the state park include ferry service to/from the island. For more park information, go to https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/egmont-key-state-park and go to http://egmontkey.info/page-1251146 for Discover the Island event information.
The Corps asks Egmont Key boaters and beach enthusiasts to please observe construction signs and use extra caution during dredging operations.
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