Posted on August 2, 2023
Plans for Pinellas Beach Renourishment
On July 26 at 9 a.m. in Belleair Beach, Kelli Hammer Levy delivered the same alarming news to the 11 mayors of Pinellas County beach cities as she did the night before in St. Pete Beach.
“The Army Corps of Engineers will not be renourishing our beaches this year,” Hammer Levy announced.
All 11 Pinellas cities made a push for residents to sign “perpetual property easements” to ensure the Army Corps’ help. If the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) performs the beach renourishment, the federal government will pay 65% of the cost; if the ACOE doesn’t perform the beach renourishment, the federal government pays nothing. In that case, the state — who already pays 17.5% of the cost, Pinellas county, and barrier island cities will have to fund the entire cost. For the first time this year, the Army Corps required 100% residents’ compliance with these forever easements, which scared many private property beachfront owners.
The Barrier Islands Government Council of Pinellas (the Big C) is a group of mayors who assemble each month to discuss and solve common issues.
“We have a whopper on our hands right now,” said Mayor Jim Rostek of Madeira Beach.
“We Are All in the Same Boat”
“Ordinarily, John Bishop, Ph.D., Coastal Management Coordinator for Pinellas County, would give us this news,” reported Big C Vice President and Mayor Cookie Kennedy (Indian Rocks Beach).
Unfortunately, Bishop was ill and Hammer Levy stood in.
“We are all in the same boat,” she said. Sad news for beachfront property owners (and no pun intended).
The purpose of the meeting was to see what the group could do to move forward. Funding ideas flowed. There were Pinellas County Commissioners present as well as residents from as far north as Clearwater and as far south as Pass-a-Grille.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton offered an idea to increase Florida’s Tourist Development tax from ½% to 1% set aside for beach renourishment. Commissioners Janet Long and Charlie Justice offered their support along with ideas.
The “Go-It-Alone” Approach
A few of the mayors showed curiosity about “going it alone” with funding these beach renourishment projects.
“It’s sticky,” explained Hammer Levy, “because if a disaster strikes with a storm, you won’t get the federal funds to rebuild the beaches along with the support from the Army Corps.”
The group talked strategy to get support from both Florida senators and more of the entire state of Florida.
“We need a plan to make everyone aware that the beaches are badly in need of renourishment,” said Pass-a-Grille Commissioner Christopher Marone.
“The beaches are the economic driver of Pinellas County,” said Mayor Dave Gattis of Belleair Beach.
The Big C came to the end of the meeting with a resolution to keep pushing in a three-tiered approach to the problem.
They focused on continuing with the design work and permits for each area’s beach renourishment; attacking the policy and legislative issues; and pursuing more political angles on a local, state and federal level.
“We’re not going to give up or go away. We’re going to fight for every inch of our beaches,” Kennedy said.