Gulf of Mexico
Several bulldozed piles of sand at the entrance to Pensacola Beach could remain in place for up to two years under an agreement between the Santa Rosa Island Authority and the Emerald Coast Utility Authority.

What's the plan for the huge sand piles near the ECUA tanks at the Pensacola Beach entrance?

Several bulldozed piles of sand at the entrance to Pensacola Beach could remain in place for up to two years under an agreement between the Santa Rosa Island Authority and the Emerald Coast Utility Authority.

The sand came from a recent dredging project in Little Sabine Bay and is being stored on island authority property, according to the agreement approved by the island authority on Wednesday.

Paolo Ghio, director of the island authority, said most of the sand from the dredging project was used to renourish beach areas on Santa Rosa Sound behind the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk.

The remaining sand, which is located near the ECUA water tanks at the beach entrance, will likely be used to backfill areas where pipe was laid by the utility as part of the reclaimed water system, he said.

The authority's white sand ordinance requires dirt or clay removed from the island to be replaced with white sand that is natural to the island.

ECUA completed its new, 2.5 million-gallon water tank in 2018. Plans call for the tank to eventually hold reclaimed water, which is treated water from the beach's wastewater treatment plant that is not considered safe for drinking.

The $4.6 million project is being funded through Natural Resource Damage Assessment grant administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The money was paid by oil giant BP in the aftermath of the massive 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill.

Tim Haag, a spokesman for the utility, said engineers do not how much of the white sand from the dredging project they will need to use.

"We do not know if we will need to use any of the fill material until we put shovels in the ground and see what was put in there in the past," he said. "If clay was put in there, we have to replace that with white sand."

Haag said construction will be phased in so that the work does not interfere with the busy summer tourism season.

"We hope to get cranking on things this winter," he said.

In the end, the project should be a win for the local environment, he said.

"Reclaimed water will be used for irrigation, rather than the more expensive drinking water so we are reducing demand on the system and reducing discharge," he said.

Melissa Nelson Gabriel can be reached at mnelsongab@pnj.com or 850-426-1431.

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