Dune Daze: SPI condo tenants restoring dunes on their own

A sign from the Native Plant Center SPI warns passerby to stay off a dune restoration project at The Florence condominiums on 5550 Gulf Blvd. Photo by Gaige Davila.

By Gaige Davila

The rain from last season’s hurricane season took some of South Padre Island’s sand dunes with it.

Residents from two beach-facing condominiums are rebuilding the sand dunes lost from hurricanes and heavy rainstorms from the last year or so.

Laurie Ortel, who owns a condo at The Florence at 5550 Gulf Blvd, said the tide reached the building at  least four times last year. After that, her and Laura Breedlove, a resident of neighboring condominium building Florence II, approached the South Padre Island mayor’s office, asking if the city was going to rebuild the lost sand dunes.

“We were shocked to learn they had no plans to do any of that,” Ortel told the PRESS from her home in Delaware. “They’re relying on the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers to do dredging and it’s so complicated.”

The Texas General Land Office awarded $4.6 million to the City of South Padre Island last September for beach renourishment. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) would lead the project, which sought public comments last December. According to project documents, the USACE would seek congressional authorization for the project, spend 2 to 5 years designing beach protection systems then another 10 to 15 years constructing them.

Ortel, she says, couldn’t wait, with her and Breedlove applying for a city permit to rebuild the dunes themselves. The permit was approved by the city’s Shoreline Department and the Texas General Land Office in January, with the bulk of the project being completed in February.

Behind the dune project at Florence II. Photo by Gaige Davila.

The Native Plant Center lead the beach renourishment labor, bringing in recycled Christmas trees, river sand from Olmito and mesh to place on top of the sand. The team brought 17 truckloads of sand to construct new dunes between The Florence and Florence II.

The last phase is planting bitter panicum and sea oats into the dunes, two plants with strong root structures to fortify the dunes against breaking waves. Ortel said they also plan to build a boardwalk, so people do not walk through the dunes. The boardwalk should be finished by May.

The planting, however, is delayed, after Winter Storm Uri in February killed many coastal plants.

“A lot of the plants that we have were stunted, and it’s the same story all the way to Florida,” Teebs Tobjornsen, President of Native Plant Center SPI, told the PRESS. “There’s not many places to go to (for plants).”

Tobjornsen, who has been restoring coastal habitats for over 20 years, says there are clear signs of dune erosion around the Island, including near The Shores and Clayton’s Beach Bar & Grill.

“There’s a lot of sand that’s been moving, it’s pretty dramatic,” Tobjornsen said, noting that the damage is not all along the shore, but in certain pockets of the beach.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2021/04/16/dune-daze-spi-condo-tenants-restoring-dunes-on-their-own/

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