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Reef project put on hold after hurricanes [But Not the Reef Balls!]

Indian River County Coastal Engineer James Gray says the hurricane delays, compounded by the annual loss of underwater visibility in the winter, has prompted the county to call off the project

By Henry A. Stephens
staff writer

October 27, 2004

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — John "Boo" McCulley had hoped by now to have finished placing 42,500 tons of limestone boulders off Castaway Cove to build a $3.7 million artificial reef for the county, he said Tuesday.

But after hurricanes Frances and Jeanne rocked the ocean, the last 5,000 tons, in 2-ton boulders, will have to wait on the Fort Pierce docks until April.

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"Everything is on hold until the water clears," McCulley said. "And the money is sitting, too. I won't get paid until this is finished."

County Coastal Engineer James Gray said the hurricane delays, compounded by the annual loss of underwater visibility in the winter, has prompted the county to call off the project until divers can see the reef to inspect and monitor the boulder placement.

Underwater visibility is "pretty bad" until April, he said.

McCulley, president of McCulley Marine Services of Fort Pierce, is the barge subcontractor for Wilkinson & Jenkins Construction Co. of St. Petersburg, the county's main contractor for the reef project.

McCulley started on the reef in May and was expected to complete it by Sept. 30.

"That beach is now 'boom, crash,'" McCulley said of the pounding surf. "We want this to go 300 yards off the sand, not be a beachfront reef."

The project calls for the boulders to go 200 to 300 yards offshore at a depth of 16 to 20 feet underwater, starting about 1,000 feet south of South Beach Park and stretching farther south.

The boulders are being placed in 36 high-profile clusters of 1 ton each and two low-profile clusters of 700 tons each.

The county's delay, meanwhile, doesn't affect 25 concrete "reef balls," made last spring by Vero Beach High School instructor Sue DeBlois' environmental science class.

Unlike the county, DeBlois hasn't called off her part of the project.

The reef balls, each one a 3,500-pound hole-filled dome, are a class project to study the attraction of fish and other marine life to habitat.

"I'll try to get them out," McCulley said. "I just don't know when."

The delay won't mean a big dent in the county's reef project, Gray said. MCulley already has placed about 37,500 tons of boulders, he said, with just 12 percent remaining.

McCulley said he surveyed the reef with a fathometer recently and found that the boulders might have been shifted by the hurricane-strengthened waves. He said he can't verify that, however, until scuba divers can see the reef in the spring and confirm whether stray boulders need to be restored to original locations.

The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered the artificial reef after the county in 2003 had placed 545,000 cubic yards of sand south of the Sebastian Inlet to combat erosion there. That sand buried a natural reef.

- henry.stephens@scripps.com



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