A do-over is under way on the north end of Palm Beach, where an Illinois dredge company spewed large rocks on a beach it was replenishing.
Initial efforts by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock to remove rocks larger than allowed in its beach cleanup plan didn’t pick up enough small ones, said Tim Murphy, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversaw the dredge project and now the half-mile-long cleanup.
“We made them go back and do it again,” Murphy said.
The grates attached to the small bulldozers used to clean the beach in March were too large and did not capture the smaller rocks, Murphy said. The equipment now being used will screen the beach for rocks larger than 3/4-inch — the maximum allowed in the new cleanup plan.
“We’re trying to make everyone happy,” Murphy said. “We want to make the DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection), the residents and the turtles real happy.”
Town manager Peter Elwell said that to speed up the rock-removal, the town has exempted the project from its construction work hours restriction — 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and is allowing work until 8 p.m.
“The outcome is not what anybody wanted from the project because of the extra level of work,” Elwell said. “Everyone recognized that the rock needed to be removed. It’s been a coordinated effort and I think all the different entities have done what they should do.”
Construction equipment on beaches is usually not allowed after March 1, the start of turtle nesting season. The rocks could pose problems for nesting sea turtles, who crawl beyond the high-tide mark and dig large holes to lay their eggs. However, an exception was made for Great Lakes and its contractors were given until May 1 to finish the project.
Now the contractors say they need until May 24 to finish. Officials are deciding whether to extend the permit again.
In a statement released on Friday, Great Lakes, the largest dredging company in the U.S., said it would “continue to work diligently until completed.”
A dredge is like a vacuum cleaner. The problem arose because suction from the massive dredge used by Great Lakes in the Palm Beach Inlet was so strong, it sucked up large rocks and small boulders. The force of the rocks and slurry burst the sifting grates, spewing rocks on the beach.
The dredge project was to be a windfall for the town, which agreed to take the sand from the inlet and use it to renourish its nearby beaches.
Instead it was a rockfall. Residents and volunteers from Reef Rescue, a nonprofit group that protects beaches and reefs, alerted officials about the rocks and problems they would cause for turtles. The group persisted after the failed first attempt.
Meanwhile plans are under review to repair a popular reef that was damaged by a cable from the tug boats Great Lakes hired. As the boats moved Great Lakes’ dredge from Palm Beach Inlet to another project off Delray Beach, the cable dragged along the ocean floor, damaging the Flower Gardens Reef, about a mile offshore of the midtown beaches.
On March 3, scuba divers discovered the damage and crew from Narcosis Dive Charters photographed it. Narcosis captain Van Blakeman said about 200 yards of reef showed 4- to 6-foot-long cuts about 4 inches wide and 3 inches deep — as though something heavy skipped along the bottom.
Although DEP has not said Great Lakes is responsible, the company hired a firm to design a plan to repair the reef. Mapping the damage was completed on March 29, but “at this time the consulting firm has not finished crunching the numbers so we do not have a total injury area size,” DEP spokesperson Mara Burger wrote in response to questions from The Post.
A repair plan submitted on April 10 required “a few additional items,” Burger said. “The consulting firm is currently adding in those items and we should receive an updated restoration plan any day now,” Burger wrote.
No citations have been issued, Burger said.
The repairs may be too late for some of the damaged coral, said Ed Tichenor, director of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue.
“If weeks pass by, the chance of recovery is quite low,” Tichenor said. “If the effort is to save as much as they can, they ought to be out there immediately reattaching it.”