PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Two Lee County beaches to get new sand; no date for reopening

Lovers Key State Park
Riley Hazel
/
Beach dunes stand in Lovers Key State Park before Hurricane in September 2022.

Some Lee County beaches will be getting a new look to repair Hurricane Ian's effects.

New sand will be delivered to a section of Lovers Key State Park where a breach threatens the access bridge.

Sand will also be sent to parts of Blind Pass Beach where a severely eroded quarter-mile beachfront threatens the Sanibel Captiva Road evacuation route.

Park status: See a map of Lee County's progress on parks after Hurricane Ian's passage

This is an effort to renourish the area made possible by Lee commissioners accepting a $5 million grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at a recent meeting.

“The beach is being filled as a way to regain the storm protection and other benefits that come from healthy beaches,” Timothy Engstrom, Lee County government communications specialist, said.

The added sand will help provide storm protection and recreational benefits along heavily-used beaches eroded by Hurricane Ian.

“For me, beaches provided me with an escape from life stresses,” Autumn Wagner of Cape Coral said. “We all just want to know when they will be back. I definitely understand all the damage done to the surrounding area, but beaches are what Florida has to offer. This is what we are known for. What is Southwest Florida without them?”

The Sanibel location specifically addresses an area near the intersection of Sanibel Captiva Road and Pine Avenue.

The funds from the grant allotted for beach and dune sand replacement were divided equally to the four most impacted Florida counties: Lee, Collier, Flagler and Volusia.

“The [grant] is to be targeted without any local match [in] those areas that are ready to proceed based on existing permits and where there is existing public infrastructure currently at risk,” Steve Boutelle of Lee County Natural Resources said.

Wagner, 21, is eager to return to what she calls her home. Wagner has not been back to the beaches since Hurricane Ian to avoid seeing the devastation, but also to avoid injury from debris. That could include roofing nails and sharp-edged chunks of aluminum.

“It's hard to look at it now,” Wagner said.

To address existing debris on the beach, the county will verify that the sand placement will not bury any debris. Beach cleaning has already been completed at the receiving parcels.

“Lee County residents and tourists are missing out on educational opportunities, recreational activities and business interactions the more that these parks are closed,” Wagner said. “I hope that this project is done in a timely and efficient manner to address these needs.”

Before Hurricane Ian, Wagner was a frequent visitor at Lovers Key State Park to collect shells and snorkel. She made it a weekly trip.

“I’m hoping [the project] will bring everybody back together,” Wagner said. “There's nothing to do right now in Cape Coral because the beaches have been taken away. Hopefully, a sense of familiarity will be brought back.”

County officials anticipate a sand placement to begin in April or May and it will take three months to complete the project.

“I’m definitely ready to be back,” Wagner said. “I think we all are ready for some relaxation, especially as we approach summer.”

For those looking to return to Lee County’s beaches, the county is working alongside state and federal agencies to clean and remove debris so that the beaches are safe for visitors.

“This is really just the first step in addressing our beach damages caused by Hurricane Ian,” Boutelle said.

As of Jan. 24, 2023, Lee County Beach parks remain closed to the public with no announced reopening date.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students.