INLET PROPOSAL: Patrick Air Force Base, Brevard County, FL
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INLET PROPOSAL: Patrick Air Force Base, Brevard County, FL
Location: North end of PAFB, 28°16'18"N 80°36'26"W – 28°15'30.0"N 80°36'20.0"W (5,000 ft stretch along Hwy A1A).
Active measures for correcting the dismal state of our Indian River Lagoon (IRL) are well overdue. In coordination with addressing the primary environmental issues of nutrient seepage from muck, degraded sewage treatment infrastructure, pesticide and agricultural runoff, and disastrously excessive freshwater inputs, developing a new inlet with the potential for hydroelectric capabilities will reciprocate many economic benefits throughout our region in addition to strengthening our national security. It is our duty as responsible citizens to maintain a healthy balance of environmental initiatives and catastrophic risk mitigation while also creating opportunities for economic growth with collective gains for all to enjoy. This may be achieved at no expense to local tax budgets by building an inlet on the north-end of Patrick Air Force Base (PAFB)—the most viable and effective area along the Space Coast for connecting the IRL with the Atlantic Ocean.
POINTS OF CONSIDERATION
No impact to local taxes: Development of the inlet on federal government land by the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) should not burden local taxpayers and should not impact local, county, or state budgets. The proposed inlet aligns with the core mission areas of the Army Corps of Engineers– “reducing flood risks along our coasts and restoring aquatic ecosystems.”
- USACE Budget (FY2019): https://www.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Releases/News-Release-Article-View/Article/1438488/presidents-fiscal-2019-budget-for-us-army-corps-of-engineers-civil-works-progra/
Restoring aquatic ecosystems: Manmade causeways throughout the IRL have created bottlenecks and chokepoints for the lagoon’s natural water movement. Introducing controlled water flow from the inlet may help mitigate against algae blooms and red tide while also cleaning out this stagnant portion of the IRL. For decades, our river has also been suffering from too much freshwater being introduced into this precious estuary. The IRL is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere including more than 2,100 species of plants and more than 2,200 species of animals. This delicate biodiversity suffers extreme pressures as the lagoon continues to receive two-and-a-half times (2.5x) more freshwater than this estuary was naturally required to handle. Historical evidence of a natural inlet once located at the Thousand Islands in Cocoa Beach further testifies to the ecological need for ocean access in this region of the river. Analysis of sediment core samples indicate the presence of a sand layer consistent with a tidal delta deposit, and the topographical patterns of the Thousand Islands are also consistent with the formations of other coastal tidal deltas. Above all, since construction of this proposed inlet should not impact local budgets, more resources may be allocated to addressing other primary environmental culprits—seepage of nutrients from muck on the lagoon’s bottom, our region’s degraded sewage treatment infrastructure, and the inflow of pollutants from pesticides and agricultural runoff. In addition to balancing out the overabundance of freshwater in the lagoon, resolving these other core issues is imperative so that the inlet’s neighboring beaches do not become subsequently polluted from the outflow.
- District Water Management Plans and Reports: https://www.sjrwmd.com/documents/plans/
- Florida Institute of Technology Research on the IRL: https://www.fit.edu/indian-river-lagoon/
- Smithsonian IRL Species Inventory and Reports: https://naturalhistory2.si.edu/smsfp/irlspec/Species_Rpts.htm
- Depositional History of the Thousand Islands, Cocoa Beach: http://www.thousand-islands.org/ecology.html
Runoff and salinity affects: Although the IRL is considered a brackish body of water, the lagoon is predominantly a saltwater estuary by nature. Human activity has greatly increased the amount of freshwater that drains to the IRL, and a network of agricultural and drainage canals have been created that discharge large volumes of freshwater into the IRL. The lagoon currently receives two-and-a-half times (2.5x) more freshwater than the system was naturally required to handle, and the natural volume and timing of freshwater inputs into the lagoon have been greatly altered to a detrimental degree in which the health of the saltwater estuary has been measurably impacted. Introducing clean ocean water into this portion of the IRL may cause an initial, temporary shock to brackish salinity levels near the inlet’s mouth. But, a controlled change to salinity levels overtime should not negatively impact the overall ecology and marine life habitat of the saltwater estuary system. Benchmarking the five other inlet regions of the IRL suggest that the ecosystem and wildlife should be able to successfully adapt to the return of natural, increased salinity levels. The improved water quality and return of natural salinity levels from clean ocean water should encourage the surrounding habitat to thrive overtime. Furthermore, since this project will likely take several years to complete, slowly introducing clean ocean water into the IRL during construction of the inlet may be achieved in a controlled and gradual manner so that any affect will be marginal once the inlet is completed and fully open. Moreover, a slow and gradual salinity acclimation should allow marine life to adequately adapt and naturalize in preparation for salinity spikes from a potential storm surge. An abrupt change to the lagoon’s salinity levels via storm surge would likely cause more harm to the ecosystem versus a steady, controlled introduction of seawater.
- Harbor Branch IRL Facts: https://www.fau.edu/hboi/irlo/docs/IRL.Fact.Sheet.pdf
- Marine Pollution Bulletin: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.01.046
Reducing flood risk and sea level rise mitigation: If/when a storm surge breaches the dune line of the barrier island and overflows into the IRL, the new inlet should allow for the lagoon’s higher water levels to effectively drain out into the ocean. In addition to helping protect local communities and residences from rising sea levels, this would also help protect PAFB from debilitative flooding, thus strengthening our national security.
- NOAA Seal Level Rise Predictions: https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/slr.html
Beach erosion mitigation: The proposed inlet may be constructed in a way to mitigate against beach erosion, especially for the area north of the inlet (Cocoa Beach). Reinforcing the north and south points on the inlet’s oceanside to simulate the natural coquina mid-reef will benefit the nearshore ecology and protect against erosion, while providing a recreational asset for prime fishing grounds and world-class surf breaks. Classic inlet-shoreline dynamics should be expected with sediment building to the north protecting Cocoa Beach, and marginal sediment attrition to the south enhancing the exposure of the natural mid-reef habitat.
- Villanova University Study on Inlets and Beach Erosion: https://msaag.aag.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/3_GALGANO.pdf
- Performance of Coastal Risk Reduction Strategies: https://www.nap.edu/read/18811/chapter/5#109
Tidal effects: The below excerpt by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains the phenomenon of reduced tidal effects in waterways relative to adjacent ocean basins.
"If the Earth were a perfect sphere without large continents, all areas on the planet would experience two equally proportioned high and low tides every lunar day. The large continents on the planet, however, block the westward passage of the tidal bulges as the Earth rotates. Unable to move freely around the globe, these tides establish complex patterns within each ocean basin that often differ greatly from tidal patterns of adjacent ocean basins or other regions of the same ocean basin (Sumich, J.L., 1996).
Three basic tidal patterns occur along the Earth’s major shorelines. In general, most areas have two high tides and two low tides each day. When the two highs and the two lows are about the same height, the pattern is called a semi-daily or semidiurnal tide. If the high and low tides differ in height, the pattern is called a mixed semidiurnal tide.
Some areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, have only one high and one low tide each day. This is called a diurnal tide. The U.S. West Coast tends to have mixed semidiurnal tides, whereas a semidiurnal pattern is more typical of the East Coast (Sumich, J.L., 1996; Thurman, H.V., 1994; Ross, D.A., 1995)."
Applied to our local waterways, we may reference NOAA tidal readings from other, geographically similar regions of the Indian River that are near inlets. It is important to note that areas of the Indian River which a wider, like the proposed inlet’s location, tend to have less of a mean tidal range and diurnal tidal range versus narrower areas of the river. For instance, at the time of this writing, tidal readings at the narrower location of the North Beach Causeway adjacent to the Ft. Pierce Inlet show a mean range of 1.5 ft. and a diurnal range of 1.79 ft. Tidal readings near Sebastian Inlet at the wider locations of Mico and Sebastian show mean ranges of 0.27 ft. and 0.3 ft., with diurnal ranges of 0.39 ft. and 0.44 ft., respectively. The region of the proposed inlet’s location offers a broad section of river which may result in relatively small tidal ranges due to this wider region providing a large displacement area for water volume.
- NOAA Tide Predictions, Florida: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/tide_predictions.html?gid=1397
- NOAA Tidal Readings, Indian River
- Mico: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/stationhome.html?id=8721994
- Sebastian: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/stationhome.html?id=8722029
- North Beach Cswy: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/stationhome.html?id=8722208
Riverbank effects: With consideration to any potential riverbank effects from tidal movement or storm surge from the proposed inlet, we may reference the other riverbanks throughout the IRL that are in proximity to each of the other five inlets. The proximity of riverbank shorelines adjacent to the other inlet locations are much closer than the shoreline of Merritt Island which lies directly across from the proposed inlet’s location, but is much further away (about three miles away) relative to the riverbanks that are across from the other five inlets. Therefore, the proposed inlet’s effects on Merritt Island’s shoreline should be marginal versus the already minimal riverbank impacts from the other five inlets. The proposed inlet is also aimed to help revive seagrass beds along the river’s shoreline which naturally hold ground in shallow water. If riverbank erosion along Merritt Island proves to be a concern, mangrove trees and oyster beds may be installed at susceptible areas which would help against sediment attrition while also helping to filter the water. The water flow provided by a new inlet should also create more suitable habitats for oysters in areas of the IRL that would benefit the most from oyster restoration projects. Many areas of the IRL that are stagnant currently have insufficient water flow for sustaining oyster populations. An additional fortification of mangrove spoil islands may also be planted to extend the chain of spoil islands that stretch southward from Sykes Creek/Newfound Harbor/Buck Point. Furthermore, the proposed inlet’s bridge should be designed in a way which helps control any sediment displacement within the IRL, especially when considering these mitigated effects from a sickled/bowed bridge. Moreover, if the proposed inlet was not created and a natural disaster (e.g. severe storm surge or extended rainfall) were to overfill the lagoon, a rise to water levels throughout the entire IRL would occur. There would be no effective exit point for floodwaters in this vital region of the lagoon—Merritt Island and our surrounding areas, including Patrick Air Force Base, would remain flooded for an extended time. To this end, the proposed inlet would provide an additional exit point if water levels throughout the lagoon were to drastically rise due to a catastrophic event.
- Oyster Restoration Projects:
- Mangrove Restoration Projects:
Optimal geographic location: The proposed inlet location for the north-end of PAFB is one of the narrowest stretches of land on the barrier island and is effectively positioned for connecting the IRL with the Atlantic Ocean. An available area that runs 5,000 ft (< 1 mile) from the base’s northern perimeter (28°16'18"N 80°36'26"W – 28°15'30.0"N 80°36'20.0"W) would provide sufficient space for building an inlet waterway with potential for hydropower infrastructure if deemed viable by USACE. This proposed area includes the construction of a new bridge or causeway to connect Highway A1A. The bridge may be built prior to cutting the inlet so that traffic on A1A would not be interrupted during the project. In addition to considering a conventional bridge that would span directly across the inlet, another option could be for the bridge to bypass the inlet and bend westward over the IRL to scenically sickle A1A while strategically controlling boat traffic and water flow.
Minimal impact on neighboring causeways and existing infrastructure: The proposed location may be far enough away from the Pineda Causeway SR 404 (distance: 3 miles away) and W Cocoa Beach Causeway SR 520 (distance: 6 miles away) so that inlet current flow should not impact the integrity of existing bridges in the region.
Possibilities for hydropower energy: In addition to the national security benefits of flood mitigation, PAFB may be able to secure base-wide sustainable energy via hydroelectric power from natural tidal movement through the proposed inlet. The continuous availability of clean hydropower energy would fortify the base’s strategic position with an off-grid energy resource and make the base less vulnerable to fallout and external energy dependence. The inlet’s water current flow may be amplified and controlled for viable hydropower with the Venturi effect factored into the inlet’s design. This project should align well with the US Army Corps of Engineer’s Hydropower Program and would further strengthen our national security.
- USACE Hydropower Program: https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Hydropower/
- Hydropower Information: https://www.energy.gov/eere/water/how-hydropower-works
- Fluid-Mechanics Information: https://www.britannica.com/science/fluid-mechanics
Accountability: We must hold ourselves accountable for decades of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) dumping into the IRL. PAFB on-base dumpsites include the Drainage Channel, Survival Canal, and Outfall 21 which were used to dump HAZMAT directly into the Banana River. Off-base dumpsites include the neighborhood of South Patrick Shores. To this end, it is respectfully requested that the Federal Government subsidize our local programs which help correct the primary environmental problems of the IRL. In addition to dredging and cleaning out HAZMAT dumpsites, federal assistance is desperately needed for dredging muck throughout the lagoon, improving our area’s sewage treatment infrastructure, and addressing pollutant runoff into our intracoastal waterway. Again, it is imperative to address these core environmental issues first so that our pristine beaches do not become subsequently polluted from the inlet’s outflow.
- US Naval Air Station Banana River Off-Base Dump Sites: https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16021coll7/id/12291/
- US Air Force Dumpsite Inspection Report: https://www.patrick.af.mil/Portals/14/W-555-17_09.pdf
- EPA Health Consultation: http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/hazardous-waste-sites/_documents/s/southpatrickshores030892.pdf
- US Air Force Civil Engineer Inspection Report: https://www.patrick.af.mil/Portals/14/documents/PFAS_Final_SiteInv_Report_Patrick_AFB_Dec_2017.pdf?ver=2018-08-03-185253-593
Increased real estate value and economic growth: The proposed location should not impact any mission-critical buildings or infrastructure on PAFB, only a portion of on-base personnel housing. Military personnel living on-base at the proposed inlet location will be afforded Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for off-base housing in the local community, and there is additional on-base housing that will not be impacted by the new inlet. The resulting increase in demand for off-base housing should help raise property values in the surrounding area which may help offset damages from HAZMAT dumping. Furthermore, sacrificing a portion of on-base housing is a much more viable option than imposing Eminent Domain on private land and civilian residences if the inlet was not developed on government property. Not including the nearly $1 Billion in annualized real estate value for properties located on or near the IRL, the total economic output (value received) from the IRL is more than $7.5 Billion annually. For each dollar invested in achieving a healthy and sustainable IRL, the lagoon returns $33 in total economic value—a return on investment (ROI) of 3,200%.
- IRL Economic Valuation Update: http://tcrpc.org/special_projects/IRL_Econ_Valu/FinalReportIRL08_26_2016.pdf
The goal of this Inlet Proposal is to create a bilateral initiative with mindful consideration to every stakeholder’s best interests so that all will mutually benefit. If the viability is valid for developing a new inlet on the north-end of PAFB, with hydropower capabilities as a value-added bonus, this asset will enhance our national security, help protect against catastrophic events, and improve our cherished ecosystem. Together, we can make a real, tangible improvement by creating an invaluable resource that will positively impact our region in many ways for generations to come. Thanks for your attention to our Inlet Proposal and please help encourage the discussion of ideas!
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Drafted by Christos Meimaroglou, MBA, Veteran, Small Business Owner.
This Inlet Proposal suggests several initiatives for improving our community and Indian River Lagoon, as there is not merely one answer for correcting these multidimensional problems. Let’s collectively investigate the possibilities of creating a new inlet on Patrick Air Force Base in a responsible manner while also addressing the core environmental issues of harmful muck nutrients, poor sewage treatment infrastructure, pesticide and agriculture runoff, and the disastrous overabundance of freshwater inputs into our saltwater estuary. Please feel free to politely comment with constructive criticism—any suggestions are welcomed and encouraged! It will require all our collective input to get this right!!
Disclaimer: I am not a scientist or an engineer. The complex topics within this Inlet Proposal deserve further research and validation for feasibility by those who are better qualified than me in these respective fields. This petition was drafted to raise demand for federal assistance in these matters, to engage high-level discussions for collectively formulating correct answers, and to spur responsible action.
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