Mar 5, 2024 - News

Florida beach renourishment stalemate hits another roadblock

Sandy dunes blocked off with pink tape and a sign that says "KEEP OFF DUNES."

Dunes on Sunset Beach are blocked off for a Pinellas County-led restoration project after Hurricane Idalia. Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

The latest effort to end a yearslong stalemate between local and federal governments over beach renourishment has itself stalled.

Why it matters: Beach renourishment — the process of pumping sand onto shorelines to combat erosion — keeps Florida's beaches accessible to the public and protects waterfront habitats and communities from storms.

  • Such projects are expensive, running up tabs in the tens of millions; without federal help, renourishment could be out of reach for some locales.

Catch up quick: City and county governments have for decades partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to split the work and cost.

  • But the Corps recently reinterpreted its own rules governing how to access privately owned land through an agreement called an easement.
  • The Corps now requires that all property owners within a beach renourishment project area grant public access to some of their land in perpetuity.
  • The new standard has put three Pinellas County projects on hold indefinitely, leaving local officials desperate for a solution.

The latest: At the start of this year's legislative session, three Pinellas lawmakers filed legislation urging Congress to direct the Corps to change its policy.

Yes, but: Bureaucracy struck again. While House Memorial 1411 had bipartisan support and was purely symbolic, it won't get a vote before this session ends on Friday, co-sponsor Rep. Lindsay Cross, D-St. Petersburg, told Axios.

  • In other words, the legislation is dead.

What they're saying: "The failure of leadership to put this on the floor is not the right decision because it affects so many of our constituents — and our tourism," Cross said Monday.

The other side: A spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Renner's office did not return Axios' request for comment.

Zoom in: Pinellas County's biggest project on hold is the Sand Key renourishment project, which covers about 14 miles from south of Sand Key Park to North Redington Beach.

  • Pinellas officials have obtained less than half — 223 of 461 — of the required easements, county spokesperson Tony Fabrizio told Axios.
  • Another 15 are needed for smaller projects in St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island.
  • A district commander for the Army Corps has spoken to concerned homeowners and "forwarded those concerns to our headquarters for their consideration," per a statement shared with Axios.

What's next: Members of Florida's congressional delegation are aware of the problem and working on solutions, Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association president Pepper Uchino told Axios.

  • "It is vitally important that we get this right," Uchino said. If the federal partnership breaks down, "Florida would have to pick up the tab, or beaches would continue to erode."
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