Building a better beach: While not part of the project, homeowner supports beach restoration

Matt Algarin
The massive dredge is capturing plenty of attention from beachgoers.

Sand pumping on Holiday Isle is a welcomed sight for a lot of Destinites — even those who have opted-out of the long-awaited restoration project.

"We felt like we didn't need sand on our beach, but they really needed it," said Joseph Hughes, who built his single-family home on the beach in 1973.

Crews from Great Lakes Dredge and Docks have been pumping sand on the critically eroded beaches of Holiday Isle for the past few days, only stopping Wednesday due to inclement weather. Between 500,000-600,000-cubic yards of sand will be pumped onto a 6,200-linear foot stretch of beach that has been ravaged by storms throughout the years.

Due to legal challenges, city leaders in Destin agreed to skip a portion of property owners like Hughes, creating a roughly 2,600-foot gap in the middle of the project area. Crews will skip the beaches of Oceania, a group of 18 single-family homes, Holiday Isle Towers and the Martinique Condominiums.

Hughes said he has no "opposition" to the eroded beaches being filled with much-needed sand.

"The state wanted to fill in the area in the middle of the project for continuity," Hughes said. "We agreed that the seven condos to our west needed sand, as did the properties to the east past Oceania."

His objection to the project was the fact that he has "beautiful" beaches right outside his back door that he would like to keep.

"From my house to the water, we have over 300 feet of beach," he said, noting there is also a 14-foot sand berm. "According to my mortgage documents, we own that property up to the water."

Hughes told The Log that if the state were to place sand on the beach behind his home, they would ultimately own the newly created shoreline, and they would be able to do whatever they wanted with the new beach.

During a restoration project, an erosion control line is created on the beach and any sand that is placed to the south of the line becomes public beach.

The West Destin Restoration project carries a $7.5 million price tag which is funded through bed tax dollars through the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council. City leaders signed a $6.77 million contract with the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company back in November. Great Lakes was the contractor on the $28 million Destin/Walton County beach restoration in 2007.

Work began near the Jetty East Condominiums and will move toward the east jetty, which is expected to take between 10-14 days, before crews pick back up near Holiday Surf & Racquet Club and move east for another 10-14-day stretch. Per the city's contract with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, the project must be completed by March 15.

Before a grain of sand ever hit the beaches of Holiday Isle, Hughes was helping those properties that desperately needed sand do whatever they could to bring a dredger to Destin.

"It was important and I wrote letters for the people who needed sand," he said.