INDIAN SHORES – Federal funding for beach renourishment projects is getting tougher to get.

Andy Squires, division director of environmental sciences in the Pinellas County Public Works Department, told members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council Dec. 6 that a recent letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specified all property easements up and down the beaches would be necessary to gain federal funding for future renourishment projects.

“They pretty much put us on notice now in terms of the next project,” said Squires. “If we can’t get the easements, they will likely do what they call the project benefits-to-cost ratio. They have a process to go through that if it doesn’t get a 1 or higher, the federal funding would be lost. So this is kind of a wake-up notice that we need to get our act together and somehow make it (getting easements) work.”

Federal funding for renourishment projects is critical. Most Pinellas County projects cost between $30 million and $40 million. Typically, federal funding picks up 60 percent of the cost. State funds, through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, pay for about 20 percent and the other 20 percent comes from county funds.

The Pinellas County portion of the funding comes from the tourist development tax. One-half of 1 percent of the 5 percent tax is set aside annually for beach projects, generating about $2 million per year.

Without federal funding, other alternatives would be necessary to fund a typical beach project.

Pinellas County Coastal Manager John Bishop said the Army Corps wants easements for the entire beach. That number is about 460, he said.

The easements involve the area of the beach from the erosion control line eastward. The Corps wants the easements so it can move more quickly on future projects and there is no question about the public status of the area.

“During this last go-around we looked for 120 easements and we got about 70,” said Bishop. “So we’re looking to fill the gaps.”

The Sand Key, Treasure Island and Long Key (Upham Beach) Nourishment Project, scheduled to start now in early March, will not be affected.

“The Army Corps was very lenient with us,” said Bishop. “They recognized it would be impossible to get all 460 easements.”

In an effort to get property owners along the beaches to cooperate with the easement requests, Bishop said his office would be notifying them shortly of the importance.

“We’re going to be putting together a letter that includes the Army Corps’ letter about what the implications are without getting the easements,” Bishop said. “This way people will recognize they can’t just expect to get sand from their neighbors to the north.”

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said the BIG-C would also need to do its part in the effort.

“We, as a Council, as elected officials, have to re-emphasize to our residents that if they don’t give the easements, then the entire project from one end of the county to the other end of the county, could go away,” Cretekos said.

North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen suggested going to each condo association individually and explaining the situation.

Redington Shores Mayor Bert Adams said there was one group in his town that is working against the effort “and that’s a hard thing to fight.”

Indian Shores Mayor Pat Soranno was not optimistic about getting 460 easements.

“We’re never going to get all of them,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of suspicion about government these days. So what we need to do is find another solution and I’m not sure what that is.

“If the integrity of the project is jeopardized by one holdout, I guarantee you we’re not going to get (federal funding),” Soranno added. “It’s just not going to happen.”