Posted on September 13, 2022
“Since I’ve been here, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Stacy Boyles, Assistant Director of Public Works for the City of Treasure Island. She’s talking about Sunset Beach, the narrow strip of sand at the southern end of Treasure Island.
Unlike the more commercial Treasure Island Beach, which hosts Sanding Ovations, the Treasure Island Kite Festival, and several resorts, Sunset Beach has mainly private residences and beach vacation rentals.
Boyles isn’t trying to malign the beachfront community; she’s simply stressing the need for beach renourishment in this area. For Florida beach communities, there’s nothing more important than sand.
And according to a June 2022 report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, our beaches are at risk. FDEC surveyed all 825 miles of Florida coastline and found half of it “critically eroded.” The situation is particularly dire for Pinellas County beaches, where FDEC found 21.4 miles of critically eroded beach areas. This includes all of Treasure Island and almost all of Sand Key. Sunset Beach, with its practically non-existent dune system, is getting the worst of it.
In a Coastal Storm Risk Management Study published in Aug. 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers reported that erosion rates “reach a maximum of almost 43 feet per year at Sunset Beach, while the centers of the island are slightly accretional at a rate of approximately one foot per year.”
Pinellas County beaches need a quick fix, but Florida beach communities don’t have as much control over their sand as one might think. Boyles gives the numbers: 60% of beach re-nourishment is covered at the federal level, 20% by the state, and then 20% by the county.
Five miles north, at Redington Beach, this is already causing problems. The City is eligible for beach renourishment, but residents are refusing to sign forms that the Army Corps of Engineers require to perform their scheduled renourishment.
Under current government regulations, each property owner would have to sign a perpetual easement. The easement grants public access to a portion of their private beach. Several residents want the sand. However, they don’t want to give up a portion of their property rights into perpetuity in order to do so.
Now, Pinellas County officials are negotiating with the Corps, trying to get adjustments to the language in the easements and the number of easements required for the work to proceed. But if this doesn’t work, the renourishment won’t happen. The county can’t afford the beach renourishment by itself.
Sunset Beach’s renourishment is scheduled for 2023, but the much-needed dune renourishment won’t happen until 2028, and that’s assuming things go well.