Posted on January 15, 2024
At the prompting of two Pinellas County lawmakers, Florida could formally urge Congress to tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change the policy positions that have delayed the nourishment of Pinellas’ severely eroded beaches.
Rep. Lindsay Cross, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater, filed the House memorial on shore protection last week. The state has little power in the beach nourishment dispute, which has mostly played out between the county and the Corps, a federal agency. Likewise, a memorial isn’t a law — if passed, it would essentially be a forceful note to Congress.
But Cross and Berfield’s filing shows how the bipartisan backlash against the Corps continues to spread. It’s the latest entry in a conflict that has frustrated and befuddled coastal residents, city and county officials, beach preservationists and federal lawmakers.
For decades, the Corps pumped tons of sand onto Pinellas beaches every few years. Those beaches are central to the county’s tourist economy and provide habitats for endangered species, but the project is primarily about coastal resiliency: The beaches are the first line of defense against major storms.
But about a decade ago, the Corps changed how it interpreted its own policy, sparking the dispute between it and Pinellas County. It now requires all property owners within the project area to provide perpetual public access before it can do the work. Many property owners refuse to do so, and Pinellas — which is in charge of procuring the easements guaranteeing access — has been stuck for years at about half the needed easements.
A nourishment originally planned for many Pinellas beaches later this year will not happen on schedule. Meanwhile, erosion leaves the beaches more vulnerable. Hurricane Idalia erased decades of dune growth, prompting Pinellas to fund an emergency dune restoration project. Then a December storm washed away much of the work that had been done to rebuild the dunes.
Not addressing the erosion “is as irresponsible as not wearing a helmet and pads while playing in a championship college football game,” Berfield said in a news release announcing the memorial.
In the memorial, Berfield and Cross describe the Corps’ policy as “overly broad” and inflexible and urge Congress to take action immediately.
“Florida’s identity is washing away,” Cross said in the release.