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Base seeking permit to line east shore with limestone boulders

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Some limestone rock already is scattered along base shorelines but there will be even more if a plan to create a barrier along Bayshore Boulevard is approved.

Photos by Airman Jose Climaco

East winds, increasing ship traffic in and out of the Port of Tampa and the odd Hurricane are taking a steady toll on MacDill's shoreline along Bayshore Boulevard. If nothing is done to halt erosion, one day the jogging trail along the scenic route will be under water and eventually Bayshore itself.

The cure? Rocks; big rocks and lots of them.

They are not pretty but they are natural and piling them along the beach from the Bayshore Gate south to about the area of the Hospital is the plan, says Jason Kirkpatrick, who heads up the environmental unit of the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron and who will be submitting a permit application package to state regulatory agencies next week. If all goes well, within six months the way will be cleared to begin the project, though with at least four agencies having to sign off, it could take up to a year to get the go-ahead, he said.

"We're hoping it will be faster," said Kirkpatrick. "It is a pressing need."

Mr. Kirkpatrick has been sounding the erosion warning since he arrived at MacDill three years ago. If there were doubters, they were converted last year when hurricanes kicked up waves in the Bay, causing anywhere from a foot to four feet of the Bayshore shoreline to be lost, said Mr. Kirkpatrick. But hurricanes are not the big threat. Though they can take chunks of shoreline in short order, it is the everyday pounding by waves that do the most damage.

Mr. Kirkpatrick has been addressing the problem at the southern end of the base by securing permits and assembling volunteer crews to place oyster domes on the shallow flats just off the shore. The little structures provide oyster habitat but also help break the waves coming up against the shore and slowing erosion of beach sand and uprooting of mangroves. The domes help but they don't compare to the protection offered by large, limestone boulders.

Under the proposal, the large rocks would cover a 2.5-mile stretch, starting at the mean low water mark and running up to the mean high tide mark. While they are not as attractive as stretches of white sand, the bottom line is there won't be any sand if something isn't done, said Mr. Kirkpatrick.

"We've been losing a lot of land to ship traffic and waves," he said. "If we don't do something, it's going to impact the jogging trail first, followed by the road eventually."

Mr. Kirkpatrick said the project will be funded by emergency hurricane money provided by Air Mobility Command to help deal with problems related to weather and shoreline damage. The project has to get approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, The Army Corp of Engineers, the Tampa Port Authority and the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission. He suspects the project will pass muster, particularly now that the proposal has been modified from a plan to place the rocks offshore to form a reef of sorts to a shoreline barrier.

"They (environmental officials) don't like doing anything that impacts the sea grasses or the mud flats, so putting them out in the water was out of the question," Mr. Kirkpatrick said. "But now I am optimistic we will get it (the approval) done."

When complete, the shoreline will resemble those areas around Davis Park where limestone shorelines were used as part of the park project. As part of the work, native grasses like sea oats and other dune plants will be planted along the shore, making for a more attractive view. Walking trails will wind through sections and beach access points will be built in so people trying to get to the water will not have to climb over the rocks.

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