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Hard times ahead?
County focuses on beach nourishment funding
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Coastal & Freshwater Resources Manager Andy Squires updates to Pinellas County Commissioners March 18 about possible funding cuts for beach nourishment.
CLEARWATER – Beaches that were nourished fared better than those that were not when Super Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012.

That was just one lesson shared during an American Shore & Beach Association Summit attended by Pinellas County’s Mr. Beach, Coastal & Freshwater Resources Manager Andy Squires.

Squires provided Pinellas County Commissioners with an update on beach nourishment during the March 18 regular meeting. He spent some time talking about what he learned during the Feb. 25-27 gathering of the nation’s coastal managers and scientists in Washington D.C.

One pressing matter is a possible decrease in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for beaches. He said the Corps “belt tightening” could affect existing projects and work projects.

“They have a number of things on the plate,” he said.

Due to budgetary constraints, the Corps is evaluating its priorities, which could be a problem for future projects, such as ongoing beach nourishment. The Corps top priority will be meeting the financial challenge of meeting operations and maintenance needs, Squires said.

Consequently, the Corps is reluctant to begin new funding commitments. Squires reminded commissioners of the 50-year federal authorization for Treasure Island that ends in 2019. Authorization for Long Key expires in 2030 and 2043 in Sand Key.

“Continued federal funding may decline in the near term and end upon authorization expiration dates,” Squire said in a memo to David Scott, executive director of the Department of Environment and Infrastructure.

The Corps plans to transition into a watershed-based budgeting process, Squires said. Officials at the Corps headquarters advised Squires and other proponents of beach nourishment attending the February meeting to bundle projects to maximize benefits.

Squires gave the example of bundling beach nourishment with dredging to use the same contractor for multiple projects. Pinellas County already bundles projects. Materials from dredging channels and inlets for navigation and flushing improvements go to nourish Gulf beaches.

“My overall impression is they are not optimistic or pessimistic, but neutral,” he said.

The Corps requested more interaction with outside agencies and requested frequent meetings with American Shore & Beach Association, which Squires said it would do.

Another pressing matter is passage of the Water Resource Development Act by Congress, which Squires discussed with a staff member from Florida Sen. Bill Nelson’s office. He also talked to the county’s new federal lobbyist.

“I’m a little bit depressed about federal funding opportunities. … We need to be prepared to lose funding levels,” Squires said.

In Squires’ memo to Scott, he talked about the many years the county had benefitted from “reliable” federal support for nourishing the three developed barrier islands – Sand Key, Treasure Island and Long Key.

Over the last 40 years, $100 million has been “put to good use” nourishing the county’s three beaches, he said.

“This was largely due to congressional earmarks, thanks to the late Congressman Bill Young,” Squires said.

Now, there are no more earmarks and no more help coming from Young.

With competition for federal funding becoming more challenging, it is time to look toward state and local dollars to pay for new sand on area beaches. He said the state had budgeted less than half of an estimated $90 million needed to keep Florida’s beaches nourished.

Squires said it costs about $10 million a year to keep local beaches nourished with about half the money coming from federal funding in the past.

“We need to talk to state representatives and start looking to the bed tax for a larger portion,” he said.
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