INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — As officials assess the massive amount of destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy's assault on the East Coast, county officials on Tuesday estimated more than $12 million in damage was done to local beaches.
"This is the worst I've seen since the 2004 hurricanes," said County Coastal Engineer James Gray, who performed the initial damage assessment for the county.
Gray noted his estimate was based only on a relatively quick visual inspection and not a formal survey. He also said some of the sand that washed off the beaches will likely eventually be swept back ashore.
Gray said Tuesday officials were already starting to see some sand naturally being replenished.
Much of the damage, estimated at $7.4 million, took place in the 6.6-mile stretch of beach that recently underwent a $15.5 million restoration project, known as Sector 3. The restoration project, between northern John's Island and the Seaview community, wrapped up around April 1.
Gray estimated nearly 370,000 cubic yards of sand was lost in that area.
According to Gray, the restoration project performed as intended to protect the shoreline. Without the restoration project, he said the damage could have been much worse with possible impacts to park structures and other infrastructure.
Another $2.4 million in damage was believed to have occurred to beaches north of the McLarty Treasure Museum, where an estimated 120,000 cubic yards of sand was lost, according to Gray's report. There was extensive dune erosion throughout the county. Gray estimated about 105,600 cubic yards of sand was lost from the dunes, resulting in more than $2.1 million in damages.
"There's just a lot of damage," said County Administrator Joe Baird.
The county was waiting Tuesday for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to issue an Emergency Final Order for the coastal counties from Brevard through Palm Beach. The order will authorize local governments to issue emergency permits for minor dune projects, according to Gray.
The county closed Tracking Station Park earlier this week until further notice. Gray said that park sustained the worst structural damage. The three boardwalks going down to the beach were damaged and the lifeguard station also needs to be repaired Total damage was estimated at $25,000.
Tracking Station Park is just north of the Vero Beach city limits behind the CVS store on State Road A1A.
He said Sandy left other beaches with escarpments, or cliff-like drop-offs after slicing off sections of dune fronts.
Concerns of beachgoers falling off 6- to 10-foot escarpments led the county to close the Seagrape Trail and Turtle Trail beach accesses, both in the 8000 block of North S.R. A1A.
Some beaches had minor escarpments, he said, about 2 or 3 feet, while other beaches had sand added by the storm's waves.
A preliminary disaster assessment team working with state and federal officials may come to the county to make its own assessment of damage, which could be used in determining whether the county could receive any state or federal assistance.
"We are asking the governor to declare an emergency," Baird said. "With Martin, St. Lucie and Brevard counties, we did feel the effects of the storm."
In Vero Beach, city Public Works Manager Don Dexter said officials this week could start replacing about 1,000 cubic yards of sand between the south end of the Conn Beach boardwalk and Ocean Drive to protect the pavement from further erosion.
Local sand mine operations were submitting bids for the material, which will be installed by city crews. The south end of the boardwalk is expected to stay closed until the project is completed.
A section of Ocean Drive was closed during the weekend because of safety concerns before it was re-opened around noon Monday, said Dexter.
The north end of the Humiston Park boardwalk was also closed while officials assessed the damage in that area.
Eventually, the city will look at replacing sand at Conn Beach, Humiston Park Beach and the Sexton Plaza beach. Conn Beach was the most severely impacted, with an estimated 6,700 cubic yards of sand lost.
"One step at a time," said Dexter. "The first step is to make sure the road is protected."
City Manager Jim O'Connor said the city may dip into its reserve funds to pay for its own sand replacement project. Based on "very preliminary" estimates, replacing sand at Conn Beach, Humiston Park Beach and the Sexton Plaza beach may cost from $150,000 to $175,000.