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Lee County approves a $2.5 million grant to add sand to Little Hickory Island

little hickory beach access sign.jpg
Katiuska Carillo
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Little Hickory Island Beach Park in Bonita Springs. New sand is to be added to the beach due to critical erosion.

The Lee Board of County Commissioners voted to accept a $2.5 million grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

The grant will add sand to the north end of Little Hickory Island on Bonita Beach. The funding will pay for design, permitting, and placement of the sand.

“The newly placed sand will provide increased access and opportunities for people who visit the area,” said Betsy Clayton, Lee County Communications Director. “A larger beach means more room to recreate on dry sand. Visually the beach will be larger, but the sand will be consistent with the native beach.”

The project boundary is just south of Little Hickory Island Beach Park and extends north. The exact placement of sand will be determined based on the profiles of the beach throughout the project boundary.

The sand on Little Hickory Island is considered critically eroded by the state, according to the FDEP.

The project will add sand to 0.8 miles of the beach. The sand will be placed within the permitted boarders but will move as dynamic coastal conditions manipulate the beach. It’s estimated to be 200,000 cubic yards of sand. The design calls for an approximate 75-foot-wide beach.

The erosion is primarily affecting the north end of the beach.

“Coastal processes and inlet dynamics affect erosion rates on the northern most portion of the beach in a more consistent manner, although tropical and other storm events can affect any area of the beach,” Clayton said.

Erosion can lead to loss of beach and dune habitat, flooding, building loss and public infrastructure damage.

The first beach renourishment project in Bonita Springs began in 1995.

According to the Lee County Government website, Lee County’s beaches are its number one economic and environmental asset.

Some residents of Bonita Springs have expressed urgency in replenishing the beach for reasons such as tourism and economic impact.

“If there’s a need to restore this beach with sand, they ought to do it,” said Bonita Springs resident, Dick Goodrum. “If they don’t do it, there’s going to be problems with tourism and the costs will go up.”

In Lee County, tourism employs 1 out of every 5 people. The county receives approximately 5 million visitors a year who spend more than $3 billion while in the area, according to the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau.

“They need to protect the beaches down here; it’s one of the biggest draws for people to come to Florida, period,” Goodrum said.

Florida’s beaches are the state’s most valuable natural resource, being that they are all vital to maintaining the health of Florida’s economy and environment, according to the FDEP.

While residents focused on tourism and the economy, other residents, like Beth McDaniel, expressed more concern over residents and marine life.

“It’s good to for them to work on keeping the beach from eroding, but I would like it if it was less for development reasons because I think this area is developed enough,” McDaniel said. “They should restore the beaches for visitors, for residents already here, and for the sea turtles and other marine life.”

The benefits of sandy beaches include storm protection of the upland development, increased recreational opportunities for residents and the public accessing the area from Little Hickory Island and the adjacent city parking areas.

In addition, there are environmental benefits including dune and sea turtle nesting habitat.

Restoring and maintaining the beach upholds the quality of life residents enjoy. The economic profits of tourism and the wildlife habitats depend on the health and sustainability of Florida’s beaches.

The grant awarded by FDEP includes a local match from the City of Bonita Springs, for the Bonita Beach Nourishment Project.

The sand is expected to be added to the beach in approximately a year.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service of Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at kkcarrillo7552@eagle.fgcu.edu