Pinellas beach leaders hear preservation concerns

Pepper Uchino, president of Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association, said the Pinellas Pass-A-Grille re-nourishment project alone will run around hundreds of millions of dollars with 60 percent matching funds from the federal government. The project has been set for 2021.

INDIAN SHORES — Sand erosion on Florida’s beaches is an ongoing concern. Three speakers addressed subjects relevant to Florida’s beaches and industry at the Dec. 4 meeting of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council held in the Indian Shores Municipal Center.

Pepper Uchino, president of Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association, discussed environmental issues; John E. Bishop, coastal management coordinator of Pinellas County Environmental Management, talked about advancing easement approvals; and Jeff Brandes of the Florida Senate spoke about state budget constraints and insurance industry problems.

Uchino began by introducing technology available to slow down or prevent shore erosion. An emerging area is performing surveys with drones. “Drones help pre- and post-storm to identify hot spots,” said Uchino.

Bringing in sand for beach re-nourishment has been a temporary fix that needs to be repeated over and over. A newer approach is to bring in sand in conjunction with building hard structures. Uchino said that building sea walls or “armoring” was complicated “because it can accelerate downstream erosion if not done properly.”

“Our beaches face additional threats from red tide and blue-green algae blooms,” said Uchino. “Storm events will be exacerbated by the additional erosion of another 4-5 inches of sand (from the blooms).”

Uchino said the Pinellas Pass-A-Grille re-nourishment project alone will run around hundreds of millions of dollars with 60 percent matching funds from the federal government. The project has been set for 2021.

The question Uchino challenged the audience to consider was how long and at what level will the funding continue to be sustained? He also explained that any unused federal monies would get reallocated elsewhere and not necessarily for beach preservation.

The last issue Uchino pursued was customary use versus beach easements. Prior to 2018 legislation local governments could claim customary use, but now homeowners have customary use. This was an important legal standpoint, he said.

“Florida passed a law in 2018 that shifted the burden for proving customary use, and if (a town) can’t get easements (public access rights), the funding goes away,” said Uchino.

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Pepper Uchino, president of Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association, said the Pinellas Pass-A-Grille re-nourishment project alone will run around hundreds of millions of dollars with 60 percent matching funds from the federal government. The project has been set for 2021.

Mayor Alan Johnson of St. Pete Beach, who is also the BIG-C vice president, confirmed the urgency of the erosion of sand from the beach in his community. “A beach in Pass-A-Grille disappeared in the last two weeks,” said Johnson.

Treasure Island Mayor Lawrence Lunn commented that sometimes bringing in sand alone is transferring the problem. “How can we all work together?” Lunn asked.

Uchino announced that the 33rd annual National Conference on Beach Preservation Technology will be held Feb. 5-7 at the Hyatt Sarasota. He invited everyone present to come to the event and to check the Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association website (www.fsbpa.com) for details.

A sample Perpetual Storm Damage Reduction Easement prepared by Pinellas County Real Estate Management’s Real Property Division was attached to the BIG-C meeting’s agenda documents for attendees to review. The easement document template is being sent to owners of beachfront property affected by the Federal Sand Key Shore Protection Project providing for beach nourishment and other protection measures in the Sand Key region. The agreement grants Pinellas County, Florida and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers access to the homeowners’ property for the purposes of restoring adjacent beach (sand) and engaging in “perpetual storm damage reduction” measures.

Bishop shared the template and gave an update on the progress of easement approvals. Easement meetings will be taking place in each affected town. Bishop said, “The video of the easement meeting we (Pinellas County Environmental Coastal Management) had in Redington Shores (in May) will be posted on our website shortly.”

Since then 31 easements have been submitted to the county by homeowners in Redington Shores. “More meetings will take place starting in January,” said Bishop.

He explained the importance of getting homeowners to sign the easements. If even one beachfront homeowner does not grant an easement in a town, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can bypass beach nourishment in that entire town.

In a legislative update, Brandes noted the next session starts in Tallahassee in January, and he advised mayors to get their funding requests in for legislative action as soon as possible. “The budget is tighter than we hoped,” said the senator.

“Gov. Ron DeSantis has stated his support for education and the environment,” said Brandes.

Florida’s population is growing rapidly. Today the state’s population is 21 million and, Brandes said, that number is expected to increase to 25 million in the next 10-15 years. “Transportation and affordable housing are going to be important issues.”

Homeowner insurance in the state is problematic. Brandes said that right now “people in Orlando with roofs over five years old are having trouble getting (homeowners) insurance coverage.”

Over the last three years companies that sell homeowner insurance in Florida have not been making a profit. The senator warned that homeowner insurance premiums could rise 15-30 percent in the next few years to tackle that shortfall.

“This is not a sustainable model,” Brandes said.