ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — This week, Escambia County announced a $10.93 million award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s National Coast Resiliency Fund to fund the construction of the Magazine Point phase of the Pensacola Bay Living Shoreline Project at NAS Pensacola.

In October, the Escambia County Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 0 to direct staff to unwind a smaller living shoreline project at Navy Point.

What is the difference between the two? According to Escambia County Natural Resource Director Chips Kirschenfeld, they have learned from problems which occurred at Navy Point.

The Pensacola Bay project will construct approximately 33 acres of emergency marsh, five acres of oyster reef breakwaters and provide natural recruitment for 25 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation. By improving these habitats, the county said the project is expected to protect 6,200 linear feet of exposed shoreline and benefit coastal bird species. In addition, implementing natural infrastructure solutions along Magazine Point will protect the U.S. Navy’s 500-foot vessel exclusion zone as well as training facilities for 5,000 enlisted Navy and Marine Corps trainees.

“The Navy Point Living Shoreline Project was built five years ago on a shoestring grant budget of $180,000,” Kirschenfeld said. “The project was built because Bayou Grande has a long history of water quality problems and is listed on the Florida Impaired Waters List. Scientific literature shows that living shoreline projects improve water quality through bivalve filtration and sea grass photosynthesis. At the time, there were many community living shoreline projects being built all around the country with recycled oyster shells contained in plastic mesh bags. This was the prevailing science at the time. Our post-construction monitoring showed increased fish, shrimp, and crab habitat as well as reduced wave energy impacting the shoreline, improved water clarity, and increased sea grass habitat.”

Kirschenfeld said it was the pummeling wind and waves from Hurricane Sally in 2020 that exposed the weaknesses of the Navy Point Living Shoreline Project.

“Wind and waves from Hurricane Sally two years ago caused some damage to the bagged oyster shell reefs, and as a result, some of the bags split open,” Kirschenfeld said. “By comparison, other more expensive living shoreline projects that used rock for breakwaters, experienced little if any damage. For example, we constructed Phase 1 of Project Greenshores along Bayfront Parkway in downtown Pensacola in 2001 at a cost of over $3 million, and that rock breakwater has sustained through multiple hurricanes including Hurricane Ivan in 2004.”

If the county were ever to rebuild the living shoreline project at Navy Point, Kirschenfeld said they would incorporate rock breakwater, which they have already decided to use with the Pensacola Bay Living Shoreline Project.

“If we rebuild the Navy Point Living Shoreline Project, we will seek adequate funding to construct a rock breakwater living shoreline project and place it further offshore, so it won’t interfere with nearshore recreational opportunities at the County-owned Navy Point Park,” Kirschenfeld said. “The Pensacola Bay Living Shoreline Project has millions of dollars to utilize rock breakwaters and will be very substantial.  It will provide increased fishery habitat, reduced shoreline erosion, and improved water quality to support increased sea grasses in Pensacola Bay.  In addition, this project will increase NAS Pensacola base resiliency and security.” 

Partial funding for the Pensacola Bay Living Shoreline Project was provided by the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative. The REPI provides funding reduce risks to mission-critical infrastructure and enhance climate change resiliency at military installations around the country.

The county said the project is a large-scale living shoreline to be constructed in southwestern Pensacola Bay. Project goals include the creation of approximately 20,000 linear feet of emergent and submerged reef breakwaters and 200 acres of emergent marsh and submerged aquatic vegetation habitat.

Kirschenfeld said engineering and design for the project has been completed.

“Environmental permitting should be finalized in the spring of 2023,” Kirschenfeld said. “Solicitation and procurement should occur next summer, and construction should begin during fall 2023. Construction should take less than 2 years.”

To find out more about the Pensacola Bay Living Shoreline Project, click here.