Posted on August 14, 2023
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna is advocating for beach renourishment projects in Pinellas County to move forward, yet again, by reaching out to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Beach renourishment is when sand is dredged offshore and pumped ashore. It’s part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ beach erosion project. In Pinellas County, Sand Key, Long Key and Treasure Island all receive renourishing from the Army Corps.
Last week, in the letter Luna sent to the Army Corps, she pointed out the issue that has caused this project to come to a halt: perpetual property easements.
In order for the projects to move forward, the Army Corps is requiring perpetual property easements from all property owners in the areas zoned for renourishment. These easements require beachfront homeowners to sign over rights to a portion of their property, forever.
All of the easements need to be signed for renourishment to take place. But the county can’t get everyone on board to sign.
“This is literally holding our island together,” Treasure Island Mayor Tyler Payne said. “The sand dunes are the first line of defense for storms and hurricanes and just the natural erosion of the beach.”
In Treasure Island is Sunset Beach. This beach is two years passed due for renourishment. More than all of the sand from the last renourishment has washed away. The erosion is so severe, the beach crossover had to be closed because the support beams are now exposed instead of buried in the sand.
“It’s even more frustrating for our community because we haven’t ever been told that we need these easements until just days before our project was supposed to go out to bid,” Payne said.
Pinellas County officials say the Army Corps justifies the perpetual property easements by federal legislation written decades ago.
In the letter Luna sent the Corps, she wrote, “Congress and our community disagree with the Corps’ changing interpretation of the 1986 Water Resource Development Act.”
10 Tampa Bay’s Malique Rankin spoke with Pinellas County Public Works Director Kelli Hammer Levy last week. She explained the interpretation of this law is seemingly up to the Army Corps’ discretion.
“It’s this is a matter of policy, it is not law, this is not something they have to do,” Levy said. “It can be changed. They’re just at this point in time, unwilling to do so”
This is the second letter Luna has sent to the Army Corps. Pinellas County officials have tried to negotiate with the Army Corps, and at one point even sent a group to Washington D.C. to ask the White House for help.
“I’ll never back down in my efforts to ensure the Army Corps of Engineers completes the scheduled beach renourishment projects here in Pinellas, especially the Sand Key, Treasure Island, and Long Key projects,” Luna said in a statement. “Absent this work, our beautiful beaches will vanish and homes along the coastline will see their foundations erode.
“The beach is already dangerously thinned in many places and the Army Corps’ continued inaction endangers all sorts of marine life. I’m not looking for any more excuses; it’s time for action on this issue and I am eager to hear back from Army Corps leadership how they will be proceeding with the Sand Key, Treasure Island, and Long Key projects. We have also been notified that the Army Corps is now refusing to help at least 9 other Florida counties that are facing similar problems.”
Not every beach needs renourishment, like Maderia. Yet public officials still see the importance these projects have, even if their main impact is a town or two over.
“We could be there in their shoes next week,” Mayor Jim Rostek said, speaking about Maderia. “We have beaches to the north and south of us that are affected, and we must provide a unified front.”
Along Maderia Beach shores, much of the sand on the beaches washes in from neighboring beaches that are losing sand. Rostek said all the beaches are connected, and helping one helps them all.
“It’s extremely important,” Rostek said when speaking on renourishment. “We’re so close to the water right here where the water can potentially overrun the dunes. So those must have to be maintained and rebuilt at regular intervals.”
Luna’s office shared she will be meeting with beach mayors next week to discuss how to proceed with the Army Corps of Engineers and how to move this project forward.