This week, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work with Pinellas County on its Shore Protection Project.
According to the congressman’s office, Crist asked the Corps to “provide flexibility to Pinellas County and maintain their commitment to work hand-in-hand with the county to replenish and preserve our coast” since the “Shore Protection Project, which serves to periodically renourish nearly 13 miles of Pinellas beaches, hit a major roadblock after the county was told by the Army Corps that they only have until the end of the year to secure hundreds of easements from property owners in order to continue the project.”
Crist weighed in on the letter to U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James on Wednesday.
“Between the outbreak of COVID-19 and Tropical Storm Eta, this has been a trying year for the people and businesses that call Pinellas home,” said Crist. “The county’s Shore Protection Project will not only safeguard our beaches, local environment, and economy – but our way of life. The future of our coastal communities is on the line. We must work together to find a common sense solution that will allow us to see this project through for the well-being of our beaches and Pinellas families and businesses.”
In the letter to James, Crist offered an overview of the county’s and the Army Corps’ efforts on the project.
“Despite completing multiple nourishment cycles over several decades, the Army Corps informed Pinellas County that local officials must obtain perpetual easements along the length of the project from 100 percent of property owners in order to be eligible for Sand Key’s next nourishment in 2024. Together with the corps’ Jacksonville District, the county and local municipalities have been working hard for over two years to obtain these easements. Unfortunately, due to understandable skepticism from some property owners, the county remains more than 270 easements short of meeting the requirement. Notably, a majority of the remaining required easements are located well into the sand dunes and would not receive any sand in the planned project,” Crist wrote.
“The corps had initially given the county until the spring of 2021 to acquire the remaining easements. However, the county shared with my office that they were recently informed by the corps that the deadline has been moved up to the end of this calendar year. While this shortened timeframe is concerning on its own, the ongoing public health emergency makes it even more difficult for the county to conduct outreach and engage with property owners,” Crist added. “This situation has been further exacerbated by Tropical Storm Eta, which made landfall just north of Tampa Bay on November 12th. Early reports from the county indicate that the beach project suffered considerable damage, resulting in a loss of over 370,000 cubic yards of sand from the storm and may need emergency repairs. Unfortunately, without the required easements, those repairs would also be in jeopardy, making an already dire situation even worse.
“Degradation of our beaches would severely impact our tourism-based economy, and the lack of a protective beach will cause even greater damage to local infrastructure when a storm occurs. This would lead to increased disaster recovery costs for everyone involved – directly contradicting the very purpose of the program. Most alarming, however, is the threat to human life and safety that a malnourished beach poses,” Crist wrote. “It is unacceptable that the Pinellas County Shore Protection Project be abandoned due to a sudden change in Corps policy, especially after completing multiple successful nourishment cycles prior to instatement of the easement requirement. For this reason, I urge the corps to provide flexibility to Pinellas County and not require easements for areas where sand will not be placed in the planned project, or has not been placed since 1996, the year the corps released guidance on WDRA 1986. These modifications would greatly assist in ensuring this critical project continues uninterrupted and allows for any emergency replenishments that may be required prior to the next scheduled project.”
Crist is trying to arrange a virtual meeting with James and asked him to respond by Tuesday.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.