Posted on September 18, 2023
With Hurricane Idalia fresh in the minds of Suncoast residents, it’s no wonder there was an impressive turnout at a public meeting to discuss beach renourishment.
Barrier island municipal leaders and residents filled the fourth-floor community hall of the Indian Shores Municipal Center to capacity the morning of Sept. 8, spilling over into the first-floor entrance and parking lot — all to hear what representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to say at the Pinellas County Shore Protection Meeting.
Unfortunately for those hoping for some break in the impasse between local governments and the Corps, the federal representatives reiterated their position: The Corps needs all property owners to provide easements allowing permanent public access to their land before the project commences.
Col. Jamie Booth, the Jacksonville District Commander for the Corps, gave a PowerPoint presentation explaining the history of the Pinellas County Florida Beach Erosion Control Project that began in 1966. Then Booth fielded questions from the audience of local elected officials, municipal leaders, and residents. Booth was supported by Project Manager Ashleigh H. Fountain as well as his team on the Pinellas project.
The three parts of the Pinellas BEC Project include the Sand Key segment, stretching from Clearwater Beach south through North Redington Beach; the Treasure Island segment, comprised of Sunshine Beach and Sunset Beach; and the Long Key Segment, picking up from Blind Pass to include Upham Beach and skipping down to cover Pass-a-Grille Beach.
The reason the project is not going forward remains the same — the Corps requires easements signed by 100% of the private beachfront property owners in order to proceed with the project, and they can’t get 100%.
Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers said that the reason many of the property owners didn’t sign the easement was due to two items in the verbiage: “public access” and “perpetuity.” Flowers asked if the Corps could “tweak” the language, limiting “public access” to only the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and only during the time when they would be working on the project. Such a change would also make “perpetuity” less threatening in terms of future property sales, she said.
Booth said that was something the Corps could look into.
A resident read a segment in the Corps guideline documentation that gave leeway for bypassing any restrictions by the Corps that were deemed “too rigid.” Booth asked the woman to send him that particular segment for review, so that he could bring that to the attention of his superiors.
Another resident brought up the prospect of dealing with beach erosion in the future with a more permanent solution, since beach renourishment with sand requires perpetual restoration every few years. He noted that Madeira Beach was the only beach community not needing sand restoration due to the fact groins, or perpendicular shore structures, have been installed there.
In order to meet fire codes during the meeting, attendees were given numerical tickets upon entering the building, starting with “1.” Residents were called in groups of ten if they wanted to speak or ask a question at the microphone. The last resident to speak was number 201.
Traditionally, federal funds have covered about two-thirds of the cost of what is estimated to be a nearly $80 million overall project. The state and Pinellas County covered the rest.
County and municipal officials are moving forward with the design of a county-driven project, possibly redirecting additional county bed-tax receipts to the beaches.