Pinellas property owners draw line in the sand against beach renourishment project
PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — To keep its mid-county beaches in tip-top shape, Pinellas County is planning a $36.5 million beach renourishment project funded mostly with federal tax dollars through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Beachfront property owners from Clearwater to North Redington Beach must voluntarily agree to the project for the plan to move forward, but they have failed to sign 63 out of the 120 required easements.
“We don’t trust the government,” said Ron Gonzalez who represents the Gulf Mariner Condominium Association.
When the Army Corps of Engineers starts replenishing a nine-mile stretch of Sand Key at the end of this year, they will likely have to hop-scotch past a number of sections to create a patchwork of restored beaches and skip 1.2 miles of beachfront due to balking land owners. They will skip any section that has less than a 1500 foot long stretch of signed easements. “I wish we could fill those areas but we can’t fill 100, 200 foot lots,” said Pinellas County coastal manager John Bishop. “That’s too small of an area.”
Bishop says the emotional groundswell of citizen opposition at recent public meetings caught him and other renourishment architects by surprise. “We’re not planning on doing anything differently than we did in previous years,” Bishop said. “We’re just trying to build the same project we always have.”
A federal law, put on the books in 1986, requires beachfront property owners to sign easements “in perpetuity” to guarantee public access, after millions of dollars of tax money is spent to improve their beachfront, but the Army Corps didn’t begin enforcing that law until trouble emerged during beach renourishment in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
Now dozens of angry and rebellious property owners in Pinellas County have railed against that policy as a “state’s rights” issue and a fundamental violation of their property rights. “That’s correct,” Gonzalez said. “They’re taking over our property.”