REDINGTON BEACH — Commissioners here made a swift change of course May 19 over its decision to stop cleaning the beach, an action prompted by complaints and perceived threats of lawsuits.

Commissioners decided to stop raking all parts of the beach May 4 after complaints by residents that town staff were encroaching on their property while raking the wet sand part of the beach. The officials acted on advice by the town attorney that some of the complaining residents had previously sued the town over another encroachment issue.

A woman who had requested at the earlier meeting that the town not rake her mother’s property said at the May 19 meeting that her intentions had been misunderstood.

None of the homeowners had talked about threatening to sue because of claims the town’s raking equipment was encroaching into their property, she said. That claim was made by the town attorney, Robert Eschenfelder, she said.

“Some of those who made the request matches the identify of those who have already shown the willingness to sue this town for the property status of their particular stretch of beach,” Eschenfelder responded, adding that their attorneys are “always looking for additional causes of action.”

He noted that lawsuits filed by some residents over “customary use” claims are now on appeal.

Resident Joe Pearson offered a fix to the raking ban. “A few people were just holding up this town by threatening litigation,” he said. “Sounds like an easy fix to me. Just mark off the people who don’t want their beach raked.”

Alluding to the two-week-old ban, Mayor Dave Will said, “It didn’t take long for the beach to start to look terrible. So, it’s obvious that we should rake the beach. They’ve been raking the beach ever since I’ve been here.”

He said a former employee had told Town Clerk Missy Clarke that the beach was being raked twice a week when he began working for the town in 1978.

Will proposed to resume raking again, with workers traveling north to south, cleaning the sand from the “weed line” to the waterline.

Commissioners agreed with Will’s plan.

However, Eschenfelder cautioned that residents who had sued over “customary use” should be contacted for their approval before resuming the raking operation.

Trench project canceled

The commission also heard presentations from two firms bidding to clean outflow pipes to improve the flow of groundwater into the bay to decrease chances of flooding after a storm.

During an hour-long discussion, representatives from Aqua-Nautik and All South Underground explained the proposed project while taking questions from commissioners and residents.

The work by Aqua-Nautik would involve cleaning up to 43 outfall pipes, sucking out and collecting debris blocking the pipes, from the end of the outfall pipes to the catch basins, and then trucking out and disposing of the debris. All South Underground would perform similar work but would also record joints and cracks in the pipes using remote video cameras.

Valves would then be installed on the outfall pipes to prevent backflow through the pipes and into streets and homes during strong storms or extremely high tides.

The work would be funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund, and the town of Redington Beach.

Consulting engineer Lynn Burnett said the pipes were in “desperate need” of cleaning.

Proposals from each of the contractors varied as to what work they would do, and Eschenfelder said he would work with Burnett to assemble a list of requirements.

Will expressed the sentiment of the commission when he said, “I feel everyone here wants to see this happen.”

However, the commission later killed another proposed project to install infiltration trenches along the front yards of some homes along Boca Ciega Bay. The trenches would capture toxic runoff and filter it through layers of sand and gravel before releasing the cleansed water into the bay.

The project, which had been brought up at previous commission meetings, found little support from the panel or residents in attendance.

Commissioner Tim Kornijtschuk said he had received “no positive feedback” following an informational meeting conducted by Burnett several weeks previous. Will said he had received emails opposing the trenches.

Resident Ken Sulewski complained the trenches would hold and trap toxic chemicals from runoff.

However, others supported the trench project. Contractor Anthony Hubbard said the system helps improve percolation and Tim Thompson, a builder, said a similar system is in place in Holmes Beach and works. He said the commission should go forward with the project because it gets cleaner water into the bay.

Burnett, responding to a question from Commissioner Shantay Skjoldager, said the trenches would have “significant” impact in preventing sedimentation.

Commissioner Tom Dorgan noted that money had already been spent on project planning and that he did not want to see it canceled. He suggested Burnett hold another informational meeting to explain the job in greater detail.

“I think it’s wrong for Redington Beach,” said Commissioner Rich Cariello. He suggested cancelling the project and using those funds in the check-valve project. Kornijtschuk echoed that idea.

Cariello moved to cancel the trench project. The council agreed in a vote of 3-2, with Dorgan and Skjoldager voting to continue.

Library pact approved

An amended interlocal agreement with the Gulf Beaches Library was approved, but not without dissent.

The agreement had been considered at the April 21 meeting, but was sent back for revision after Dorgan, a member of the library’s board of trustees, objected to several provisions. He had asked Eschenfelder to send the agreement back for revision.

The library is funded by five beach communities: Madeira Beach, Treasure Island, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach, and Redington Shores. The library is located on land owned by the city of Madeira Beach.

Eschenfelder reported May 19 that the mayor of Madeira Beach, John Hendricks, had rejected the proposed changes, saying that most of the five communities had already approved the agreement. City Manager Robert Daniels told him, Eschenfelder said, that most of the other member communities had approved the agreement to keep the support of Madeira Beach, and that an effort would be made to work out the weaknesses of the agreement.

Dorgan accused Madeira Beach of “running roughshod” over the other communities. He charged the agreement had been “written by Madeira Beach” and that the agreement had not been presented to the other member communities for finalization.

He said the agreement Redington Beach was being asked to sign on to was not the same document that had been presented to the other members and that he believed there was “a little bit of bad faith here.”

The commission approved the agreement 4-1, with Dorgan voting no.

No to gas-tax hike

In other action, commissioners turned back an interlocal agreement with Pinellas County that could raise the gas tax by up to 5 cents. The county gets 60 percent of the gas tax revenue, with the rest split between all cities and towns in Pinellas County.

Kornijtschuk said a vote on the agreement was “strictly academic” because he expected most municipalities to sign it. It would go into effect when it is ratified by 51% of Pinellas County municipalities.

Skjoldager said she was conflicted about the agreement because the gas tax had not been raised in years. She cited projections the increase would add about $27 to the yearly expenses of an average household.

Clarke said Redington Beach receives about $20,000 a year from the current 7 cent tax.

Commissioners voted against the agreement, 3-2, with Skjoldager and Dorgan voting to approve.

County officials have yet to determine how much, if any, to raise the tax. If the full increase is approved, the gas tax would rise to 12 cents a gallon.