Restoring Florida's Beaches in the Wake of Hurricane Dennis

Millions of dollars of beach restoration projects may need to be reworked in the wake of Hurricane Dennis. The storm caused massive erosion of beaches and dunes along the Florida Panhandle.

Flying along the Florida Panhandle, you get a good view of just how devastating Dennis was to the coastline. Wide white sand beaches that used to stretch out to the Gulf are now eight to 10-foot cliffs up against people’s houses, but should taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to put back what mother nature takes away every year?

Sarah Williams with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says yes.

Sarah says, “Our sand and dune systems absorb the wave energy and stop large storm surges from hurting our environment and people’s homes and buildings that are along the beach, so our projects are definitely well worth the money to protect the habitat and the nearby buildings.”

The state and federal government put more than $200 million into beach restoration projects after the 2004 hurricane season, but beautiful beaches are one of the biggest factors in Florida’s more than $50 billion a year tourism industry.

Vanessa Walter with Visit Florida says beaches are the number one reason people come here.

Vanessa says, “Thirty seven percent of our visitors go to a beach, spend time on a beach, play on a beach, take their family to a beach, so it’s very important.”

The state is looking at some new ways of replenishing sand to help protect its investment, including using recycled glass for projects in south Florida. Engineers are also building experimental containment structures to keep sand from washing out to sea. There’s no tally yet for the damage Dennis did to the dunes, but you can bet it will be a costly repair job.

DEP staffers are in the process of assessing beach erosion from Wakulla to Escambia County and expect to have a preliminary damage report sometime next week.