Sand Trap: Another storm, another round of beach erosion, another round of questions about renourishment.

Beach erosion — during Tropical Storm Fay — threatens homes in Vilano Beach. As Tropical Storm Fay danced around the coast this summer, making a record number of landfalls, it also did a number on Florida’s beaches. The storm eroded sand from south Palm Beach and Lantana in Palm Beach County, as well as from south Ponte Vedra and Vilano beaches in St. Johns County. In the latter case, five homes are threatened by erosion. Just a week later, Hurricane Gustav ate into vulnerable beaches on Florida’s Gulf shoreline: Alligator Point in Franklin County and St. Joseph’s Peninsula.

Officials say they’ll spend about $154 million this year on beach restoration, renourishment, sand-transfer and monitoring projects:
Local governments-$81 million
State government-$44 million
Federal government-$29 million
Source: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

All those areas are chronic hot spots for beach erosion, says Mike Barnett, chief of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, and all are candidates for beach-restoration projects. Statewide, about a dozen projects are scheduled for 2009, many involving maintenance of previously restored shorelines, also known as nourishment.

Renourishment sites are supposed to receive new sand every six to 10 years but may need it more frequently after heavy storm periods such as the current one. Much of the sand brought to Honeymoon Island in a $2-million project less than a year ago had washed away by the time Gustav finished its tour, for example.

The projects remain controversial, despite Florida’s 50-year tradition of restoring eroded beaches. Some environmentalists and sportsmen oppose the renourishment efforts because they can harm — or even bury — reefs and sea life. Some see the expensive projects as unwise public subsidies for wealthy beachfront dwellers. “Many millions of dollars flow faster than sand through your toes,” complains Karl Wickstrom, editor-in-chief at Florida Sportsman magazine and a critic of the projects.