Posted on August 9, 2023
Three beach renourishment projects in Pinellas County are coming to a halt.
The county has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers on Sand Key, Long Key, and Treasure Island to add more sand to stop shoreline erosion and provide more protection for buildings nearby in a storm.
The Army Corps of Engineers is drawing a line in the sand requiring the county to provide 100% of the easements in order to move forward with the project. That means all the property owners, hotels, and condos on the stretch of the project have to provide a perpetual easement, signing over access to their land.
The word perpetual is a big hold-up for many private property owners.
They have 48% right now, which is ultimately why the project is at a standstill.
“Right now, the policy is that we have to provide 100% of easements along the project lengths, or the projects are not moving forward. So either two things: we obtain all the easements so the project can move forward, or the Army Corps changes their policy and allows for other mechanisms,” Kelli Hammer Levy, the Pinellas County Public Works director, said.
Susan Smith, a long-time Reddington Shores Resident, wants to see the beach renourished, and she said she’s frustrated with the process.
“Usually, as voters, if you win 51% of the vote, you get to go forward, so why they’re holding so fast to this 100% signing. You can’t get 100% of the people to agree the sky is blue today,” Smith said.
She said many of her neighbors who have not provided easements don’t even live in the state. They rent their properties as vacation homes.
“They’re not going to be here when the storm comes, and were the ones that live here. We aren’t happy with those people who haven’t signed, but we also don’t understand why the Army Corps of Engineers is demanding this, this time,” Smith said.
The Army Corps of Engineers sent me a statement saying:
USACE Jacksonville has been and continues to be engaged in discussions with its Pinellas County partners to acquire perpetual easements for sections of the shoreline which are necessary for the Corps to proceed with the design, contracting and execution of its federal shoreline protection project. This is not a new requirement, there were numerous public meetings in 2017 regarding the requirement for perpetual easements for Sand Key; see the attached PDF.
To date, per the Pinellas County Beach Nourishment Easement tracker [pinellas-egis.maps.arcgis.com], Pinellas County has acquired 223 out of the required 461 perpetual easements for the USACE to be able to construct the Sand Key Segment of the federal project.
Pinellas County is the non-federal sponsor for the Pinellas County Shore Protection Project, including the Sand Key, Treasure Island and Long Key Segments. In accordance with Article Ill of the Project Cooperation Agreement (PCA), executed on April 7, 1995, the non-Federal sponsor is required to provide all easements required for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Project. Federally cost shared and constructed beaches, such as those under the PCA, require all lands within historic fill limits, and in some cases, lands abutting historic fill limits, to have perpetual easements for the public use of the beach.
The 1986 Water Resource Development Act (WRDA 1986, see Section 103(d)), prohibits Federal participation in costs assigned to benefits to privately-owned shores where the use of such shores is limited to private interests. Non-federal interests must, therefore, assure continued conditions of public ownership and use of the shore. Hence the requirement for the County to provide perpetual easements over private lands included in the authorized project.
Our most recent meeting with Pinellas was conducted this past Monday, July 31, 2023. Discussions centered on the outstanding easements and the forthcoming lands requests that will be submitted to Pinellas County in order to move forward with design and construction of the Project.
USACE Jacksonville is committed to arriving at a mutually acceptable resolution of this outstanding issue that will permit the Corps and Pinellas County to proceed with their joint shore protection project activities, including recurring renourishments of several reaches of the Pinellas County coast.”
Army Corps of Engineers
As for the county’s next steps. They sent a statement saying, “We are continuing to encourage property owners to provide easements, we are still discussing the challenges with Corps to see what else can be done to help move these projects forward, we are coordinating with our Congressional Delegation, and we are moving ahead with county-led project design in case we have to build the projects locally.”