Governor Scott leaves beach renourishment funding in budget

06/07/11 Kate Bradshaw
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The state of Florida boasts of more than 800 miles of beachfront. Some of these beaches erode so much that encroaching waters threaten buildings and worsen the impacts of storm surge. Across the state, a practice known as beach renourishment attempts to stop this. Such projects rely heavily on state funding, which Governor Rick Scott threatened to cut. But $16 million dollars for beach renourishment was not among the items he vetoed when he signed the state budget passed by the Legislature. Beach officials like Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence are breathing a sigh of relief.

"Beach renourishment is extremely important to the beach communities and to the Florida economy as a whole."

Beach renourishment projects like the one at Pinellas County’s Sand Key involve pumping sand up from nearby channels or shoals and depositing it up onto the beach. Suncoast Surfrider Foundation President Scott Orsini said development alone Florida’s shorelines has made the practice a necessary evil.

"What we've done on our barrier islands is when you go to build buildings you whack down the dune so there's no natural buffer to erosion. What you kind of have to do is you have to put the beach back."

University of South Florida Coastal Geology Professor Ping Wang called it a passive form of keeping beaches at a certain width, rather than one that involves building a structure to keep sand from drifting away.

"The goal is to provide a beach and also to provide a buffer for storm protection."

He said natural processes like longshore drift constantly carry sand off the beach.

"With the wind blowing from North to South it generates waves coming from North to South. That wave, when the wave breaks, gets closer to shore it generates a longshore current that may carry sand down the coast."

In the long run, he said, that could mean slimmer beaches in some spots, which would not only threaten developments along the coast, but would also mean less shock absorption from powerful storm surge. Wang said replenishing sands on a given beach isn’t often a one-time thing.

"Many times when you do one nourishment you kind of need to plan for the next one. It's what you call re-nourisment."

Some critics of beach renourishment say it threatens marine habitats and the powerful machine that sucks up sand from the ocean floor can potentially be hazardous to undersea wildlife. But environmental advocacy groups like the Sierra Club of Florida are thus far neutral on the practice. Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence said without renourishment, the beach environment that serves as one of the state’s biggest economic drivers would be severely diminished, if not gone.

"When I moved here 20 years ago the beach was about, well, I'll say the water was almost to the seawalls. There was hardly any beach at all. That's the eventual outcome of not nourishing the beaches. You're going to lose and lose and lose each year and eventually there's not going to be hardly any beach at all to entice visitors and tourists to come in."

…which is why Lawrence said he was a little nervous when Governor Rick Scott was threatening to cut all $16 million in new funds the state legislature had allocated for nourishment projects statewide.

"The cities do not have the funding mechanisms to pay the expense of nourishment. It's a very, very, expensive process and there's no way that a small town like Indian Shores could ever find the funding to renourish the beach ourselves."

Scott had pointed to $75 million in state funds slated for nourishment projects as a reason to ax the money, but that money is tied up in projects that are already ongoing. State Representative Jim Frishe, a Republican from St. Petersburg, said part of the challenge in getting the $16 million restored was convincing the governor that it was more than an earmark.

"The governor originally was looking at it as basically a local expenditure of state funds. We had a chance to talk to his staff and basically educated him as to the beach renourishment program throughout the entire state. The program doesn't just deal with Pinellas County it deals with the entire state."

Frishe said unlike the long list of hot button issues that divided the legislature this past session, pretty much everyone agrees on this one.

"It's something that governors both Republican and Democrat over the years have supported. I think we just made the case and he understood it and I'd like to think it makes him a very wise man."

The funding will aid a number of local renourishment efforts including at Treasure Island, Long Key, and Sand Key. Other funding sources in Pinellas include the Tourist Development Tax, also known as the bed tax, which is a five percent levy on short term rentals.

Previous WMNF news coverage of beach renourishment

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