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DUNE DRIVE: Beach vegetation effective for protection

August 28, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A drive for a beach vegetation demonstration area between Gulf front properties and mean high water line has begun off the northern/middle shoreline section of Estero Island.

Beach resident Bill Veach, who owns a home on the beachfront, voluntarily planted dune vegetation in front of his beachfront home over the past winter. Vegetation traps sand blown by wind and moved by waves from the surf zone to the dune area. It is viewed as a critical component to maintaining beach stability and serving as a source of sand to rebuild the beach after a storm event.

Veach has encouraged some of his nearby neighbors to plant dune vegetation on their property, so that a contiguous vegetation line can form to show the positive effects of it.

Article Photos

Beachfront property owner Bill Veach stands in front of a vegetation demonstration area at his home. He is encouraging nearby neighbors to join him in showing others how native plants can reverse erosion, protect property and create a beautiful highlight to beachfront properties.

"The original idea was that we would pick a few houses on each side of the Connecticut Street beach access and make this a demonstration area and then offer everybody the plantings for free, except for me," he said. "One of the hopes in this is if you get enough established vegetation, we could hold off the need for re-nourishment. Erosion can undermine the foundations of patios, porches and even buildings."

Some of Veach's neighbors near the beach access have been receptive, but some would like to be present when the plantings happen or pick out which plantings to be placed within their property line. Dune plant communities have been known to stabilize beaches over time.

Back in June, Veach stated he would like to see what has been called the "beachscape program" brought up again and made a plea for fellow beachfront property owners to join him in this endeavor of a trial beach planting project.

He stated the goal of the project is "to demonstrate how native plants can reverse erosion, protect property and create a beautiful highlight to beachfront properties."

Residences and businesses along the shoreline are known to be huge investments. Unfortunately, these structures are also the first to be impacted when any type of tropical storm or hurricane in the Gulf send winds and surf ashore. If there is no dune vegetation in front of the beachfront structures to block sand from reaching the property or buildings, sand and whatever else the surf drags up can collect near your doorstep.

Veach, who is a member of a Town advisory board called Marine Resource Task Force, has been discussing the plans with fellow committee members. He originally thought the planting process would have to wait until after sea turtle season (May 1 to Oct. 31), but was notified that it could occur during this current rainy season for establishment.

"DEP told us we could plant anytime because we are not using heavy power equipment," said Veach. "The committee decided we wanted to move as fast as we can instead of waiting until March 2014."

Volunteers will be used to do the actual plantings for the demonstration area. Town officials can get the plants at wholesale cost, and money to pay for the plants will come out of MRTF's allotted funds.

Once the demonstration area is established, Veach plans on putting up signs to show beach walkers and other beachfront property owners what to expect from the project. He hopes to involve four to eight properties and a beach access.

There are others not related to the demonstration area that are planting voluntarily.

"I see some people are already planting. I imagine some others will take us up on that," he said. "Hopefully, a demonstration project will be good enough so that people can come and look at it instead of us explaining what we are going to do."

The demonstration project is to show effectiveness not to demand compliance. Property owners who are involved in the demonstration area or do voluntary plantings are allowed to trim their plants back.

"Everything is strictly voluntary, even down to what they want to plant," said Veach. "The only stipulation is you cannot pull out the plantings."

As a MRTF member, Veach plans on sending out a letter to beach property owners to notify them about the program and offer plantings at Town cost to beachfront owners in other areas. The program will be expanded to other sections of the beach incrementally.

"It is to demonstrate what the plantings look like and what they do," he stated. "It is not to fortify the beach with plants. This is just a small area. We want to refer to the demonstration area when we send out the mailings."

The engineer by trade has worked closely with Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen throughout project preparations. Laakkonen is MRTF's liaison.

Veach is also conducting this voluntary program in hopes to show the positive effects of vegetation to other Town officials. Those who have removed dunes on their properties throughout the years are ones that tend to have the wrack line much closer to their homes and are susceptible to flooding.

The vegetation requirements for the demonstration area involve roughly 75 percent coverage in a 10' by 10' area. The coverage would allow a large walkway in between. The plantings for the demonstration area does not require Council approval.

If the program is implemented island-wide over time, vegetation will come from a myriad of at least four plants in accordance with the proposed Nourishment Vegetation Management Plan for the Town of Fort Myers Beach. They include sea oats, dune sunflower, railroad vine and dune panic grass.

"Railroad vines will pull nutrients from one part of the dune to the other and are beneficial to the sea oats for that reason," said Veach, who commented that sea oats are so robust that they actually thrive in high tide or wash-over situations by getting nutrients from the salt water.

After the Estero Island Beach Restoration project was completed on the northern 1.2-mile section of Fort Myers Beach, beachfront properties and County-owned parks had vegetation plantings installed.

"Those are starting to trap a little bit of sand now," said Laakkonen, back in June. "The ones at Bowditch Point have benefitted the most. The amount of sand that has travelled through those areas are two to three feet tall. The north end would be useful for the beachscape program to show how minimal and what you can actually do with beach vegetation.

Dunes on this style of beach are expected to be smaller than one you would find off the Atlantic Ocean.

"It doesn't really create the dunes of Cape Cod," added Laakkonen at that time.

Veach has an interest in the program for several reasons.

"I likes the plants because they give you privacy. We've had people come up to our house and look in the window, so protection of the property is another reason. Having a beachfront home is a big investment, and vegetation helps during smaller, more frequent storms," he said. "I also think they're attractive."



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