The sand dunes and vegetation to the left are what protect Indian Rocks Beach and all the other Gulf beaches when storms hit.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – City of Indian Rocks Beach residents are going to be given the opportunity to learn about something some have been taking for granted for years: the beach.
In January, the City Commission has invited county and state officials to come to a special workshop meeting to outline the dos and don’ts about the beach and why some rules and regulations are in place.
Mayor R.B. Johnson said when residents get involved in doing things on or to the beach, it can get complicated.
“It is complicated in the sense that there are overlapping jurisdictions, city, state and county,” he said. “There is the coastal construction line and the erosion line as it pertains to the property line and it gets fuzzy over who has responsibility for what.”
It is to clear up that fuzziness that City Manager Gregg Mims wants to update the city’s beach management plan.
“There are plants and berms and sea oats and we have to know who maintains what,” he said. “The first step is getting the officials here to explain the rules and regulations.”
Mims said from the city’s end of things, before they can pass laws or ordinances they have to be clear on what to do. And it is never simple when working with the beach.
“If we do any work on the beach, such as moving sand around, we have to get a permit from the county.”
That was the case in the fall when Hurricane Hermine, which washed a good portion of sand into the Gulf, struck the beach. The city had to replace thousands of tons of sand but needed permission to do so.
Mims said residents, especially those who live on the beach, have to be aware of what they are permitted to do. Not all of them are aware at the moment.
“Occasionally, people will do things,” he said. “We’ve seen people taking sea oats out, which they just cannot do.”
Johnson, who walks the beach nearly every day, is a dedicated guardian of the vegetation on the beach. He says that vegetation is protected by law.
“Dunes and plants are protected by state law,” he said. “Even if you have a deed that says your property goes to the high water mark it doesn’t matter. If the vegetation is located on that part of the beach it is protected by the state.”
Johnson admitted it can be tough to keep track of who has jurisdiction and who has to uphold the rules.
“The entire beach is inside city boundaries,” he said. “The city has certain restrictions such as drinking on the beach, littering and so on. There is also a buoy system in the water that indicates a no-anchoring area out there.”
Then there are the rules regarding turtle season.
“During turtle season we have to keep the lights dimmed so the hatchlings will head for the water and not the street. There are laws governing that.”
Despite all the laws and regulations, keeping the beach whole and healthy is always a struggle when it comes to dealing with Mother Nature. Johnson remembers Hurricane Helena back in 1985, which practically wiped out the entire beach. He says it was because the beach didn’t have an adequate dune system. That has changed.
“We now have a wide enough dune system to regenerate the beach when a hurricane strikes,” he said. “Hermine could have done a lot more damage than it did but our dune system protected both the beach and the residents.”
The dunes provide a natural barrier between the water and the land and act as a buffer during the storm. Afterwards, sand from the dunes naturally replaces the sand that washed off the beach.
Johnson noted there are some gaps in the dune system and the damage that was done on those areas by Hurricane Hermine was noticeable compared to the areas where the dunes were located.
“It is a natural repair aspect of the beach,” he said. “We need to focus on what our long term plan is for maintenance of the dune system so they stay in place with their reservoirs of sand.”
Johnson said the beach and the care of it should be of utmost importance.
“The beach is our greatest natural asset,” he said. “The vast majority of our visitors come for the beach. They stay at our lodgings and they eat at our restaurants. It is our number one natural attraction.”
The special workshop will be held Jan. 10, 4 to 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in the hall at the Calvary Episcopal Church, the last time the commission will meet there before refurbishment of City Hall is complete.
Mims, the city manager, hopes a good number of people show up for the workshop, not only to learn about the beach but also to perhaps add to the city’s long range plans.
“We try to increase public participation,” he said. “We reach out to people in several ways including Facebook where we get over 1,600 hits a week. We always welcome people at our meetings and look forward to having them show up.”