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Beach communities refuse dunes, putting others at risk

Mark Parker

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Kelli Levy, Pinellas County public works director, stands next to catastrophic beach erosion after Hurricane Idalia. Many coastal property owners refuse to allow emergency stabilization efforts. Photo: LinkedIn.

A new $15 million state grant will help Pinellas County officials pay for an ongoing $37 million emergency dune restoration project.

However, some coastal communities refuse to sign temporary construction easement documents, placing adjacent public infrastructure and cooperating neighbors in peril.

County Commissioners unanimously approved the Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant agreement Dec. 12. They also voted, without comment, to transfer $16 million in tourist development tax reserves to the capital project fund for the Post-Idalia Emergency Shore Stabilization project.

At a Dec. 7 work session, County Administrator Barry Burton again credited the public works and purchasing departments for “making things happen overnight.” He also noted dangerous gaps between the ongoing and completed projects.

“There’s areas we do not have dunes because we don’t have easements,” Burton said. “The reality is water goes around it – it doesn’t care. If you have a gap, it … travels the path of least resistance, down the road.”

Hurricane Idalia’s storm surge washed massive amounts of beach sand into adjacent roadways. Photos: Pinellas County Government.

In August, Hurricane Idalia’s storm surge decimated protective dunes and washed away vital shorelines. The public works department implemented an emergency plan in less than a week.

Commissioners allocated $9 million in initial project funding in September. Total estimated costs have since soared from $21 million to $37 million.

Pinellas officials considered 21 of the county’s 35 miles of beaches critically eroded before Idalia. An impasse with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and property owners exacerbated the problem.

The agency now requires public easements before it approves and helps fund expensive projects. Many residents have refused due to language falsely suggesting they would permanently relinquish property rights.

Views over safety

However, public works director Kelli Levy noted emergency restoration efforts only require temporary construction easements. She said many home and business owners do not want the dunes blocking their views.

“What we have out there today, what we’ve built, is all they’re going to have between them and the Gulf of Mexico for the next two hurricane seasons,” Levy said. “And at least two winters. That’s it.”

County workers and contractors have rebuilt dunes in Treasure Island and Pass-a-Grille. The Madeira Beach project is close to completion, and restoration efforts will soon begin in Indian Shores.

Levy said the Indian Shores project is the most extensive, and federal funding stipulations will add to its scope and timeline. Residents and businesses in Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores will not receive any new natural barriers, which are also critical marine life habitats.

An overhead view of newly created dunes and freshly planted vegetation in Sunset Beach. Photo: Pinellas County Government.

Levy explained that healthy beaches are about five feet above sea level, and the “flat part people are walking on today is at one foot.” She said shorelines also lost hundreds of feet in width, causing the dunes to now look ill-proportioned.

“The fact is, we can’t get construction easements to protect their property … because they don’t want to block their view,” Burton said. “That’s a problem. It just is.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers said he understood concerns surrounding the Army Corps “permanent” easements. However, he noted temporary local emergency efforts are critical to protecting surrounding public infrastructure.

Chair Janet Long said county officials should adopt a clear policy stating they would not assist people “willing to let neighbors suffer from their selfishness” after a major storm. Burton reiterated that would not mitigate impacts to cooperative residents.

Incoming Chair Kathleen Peters asked if an Emergency Executive Order could force owners to allow construction. Burton said that would require “taking the property … and it would be very litigious.”

Levy noted that U.S. Sen. Rick Scott is working with Army Corps leadership to overcome the bureaucratic stalemate. She said discussions with county counterparts in the Carolinas are ongoing, as the issue extends up the East Coast.

“There are absolutely middle grounds … to find solutions that comply with the law,” Levy added. “Without giving up on the actual course mission.”

 

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Barry

    December 18, 2023at2:53 pm

    To clarify, the US Army Cops of Engineers are requiring the permanent easements, not local government. This has been ongoing for 4 years with the Corps not budging. Second, the beach reconstruction is being paid for with visitor bed taxes. These funds can only be used for tourism related activities. I do hope we can come to an agreement with the Corps and have community conversations about how best to protect all residents.

  2. Avatar

    MelvinJunior

    December 18, 2023at1:05 am

    Nope, Deb. That “permanent” language was included in the original big project by the Army Corps Of Engineers… THIS project is not the same. This is a local project done by Pinellas County, & they are only asking for “Temporary” Access. Two totally different ordeals.

  3. Avatar

    Laura

    December 17, 2023at7:05 pm

    I hope they all get washed out to sea with the next storm. They don’t want to share the water…which obviously doesn’t doesn’t belong to them. Hell, they don’t even want us breathing their air. They deserve what they get…if they all get washed away (homes and people) we’ll be able to see the water again, like we once could. I’m over it.

  4. Avatar

    Joe

    December 17, 2023at12:19 pm

    Don’t fight them and don’t replace dones. They lose there houses due to mother nature. Insurance will not help them do to their ingnorence. Win – Mother nature

  5. Avatar

    Will

    December 17, 2023at10:47 am

    It’s pretty simple. You don’t do anything. Show the golf to retake the island. They gonna sue the Gulf? Let them lay in the bed they’ve seriously made. And when they FINALLY see the damage they’ve caused for themselves and seek assistance to save their homes, it’ll be too late and they will have to foot the bill of getting out of there. Way not than the inconvenience of a bad view for a while. People don’t get it till the precipice of disaster. They were warned. Once everyone has gone and you don’t need a single signature… Fix it all and don’t allow anyone to return or simply allow nature to be nature and go where it needs and we get it of nature’s way!

  6. Avatar

    Roger Black

    December 17, 2023at9:16 am

    The rapid completion of new dunes at Pass-a-Grille Beach by the county was impressive and reassuring. Government can work, and on time and on budget!

    Meanwhile the city of government of St Pete Beach sat watching with their fingers in their ears, unable or unwilling to say anything. As far as I could see from my home on the south end of the island, they did not even clean a single road,

  7. Avatar

    Deb

    December 17, 2023at8:06 am

    The above comments are missing the point. The residents being asked to sign the agreement are not wanting to give “permanent” access permission. Change the language in the agreement. That would force a new agreement to be signed with each beach erosion occurrence, but, hey, it’s these folks’ private property. Ask them nicely without slipping in objectionable language. Why hasn’t that been done yet? Good question. What strongman tactic will be used now?

  8. Avatar

    Richard Siderits

    December 17, 2023at7:48 am

    Why do tax dollars pay for beach renourishment on beaches where the public can’t access? (Belleair Beach )

  9. Avatar

    Barbara Melvoy

    December 16, 2023at9:55 pm

    Each household on these barrier islands should be paid $1000 to vacate and demolish all constructed buildings (just like they do to residents in condemned trailer parks!) Reclaim the land and make these islands public parks and restore the wildlife habitats. Do this in the name of “public safety” again, just like you do to those living in condemned trailer parks. These islands are not safe to build on. Shifting sands and erosion do pose a danger to people.

  10. Avatar

    Mike K.

    December 16, 2023at6:09 pm

    The people refusing to allow placement of the dunes should have that portion of their property seized under eminent domaine. To endanger your neighbors for selfish reasons is not acceptable.

  11. Avatar

    Nancy

    December 16, 2023at4:53 pm

    It amazes me that the owners on the waterfront would risk the beach environment and the protection needed for the shorelines and neighbors because of their absolute selfishness of wanting a view. There should be a way to force them to allow the temporary easement to do the construction. Some people just don’t care about the good for all. They will fight for their “rights” regardless of the detriment to the environment and others just to satisfy their own selfish needs. Entitled people with no conscience.

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