County says 'go' for Anna Maria beach renourishment
“It’s a new day,” said Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford after Manatee County commissioners gave consensus approval Dec. 2 to include Anna Maria beaches in the application to get the next Islandwide beach renourishment project approved and funded.
Earlier this year, some county commissioners had expressed reluctance to commit county funds to put new sand on the city’s beaches because of a concern that Anna Maria was not cooperating with the county in several areas, including public parking and promoting tourism. Some commissioners also had observed that the city’s contribution to the bed tax fund was much less than that of Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.
But a lot has happened since that time, said Barford, not the least of which is a determined effort by city officials to convince county commissioners that it’s a “new day” in Anna Maria.
Speaking to a joint Anna Maria City Commission-Manatee County Commission meeting at the Anna Maria City Hall Dec. 2, Barford noted that the city now has more than the required number of public parking spaces to participate in the federally funded beach renourishment program.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed and signed off on the city’s requirement in August.
“Parking is no longer an issue,” Barford said. “Parking signs are in place and parking spaces have been identified. We now meet the criteria.”
And city enthusiasm for tourism is not an issue.
Barford and Commission Chairman John Quam led county commissioners on a tour of the city, noting the projects currently undertaken by Pine Avenue Restoration LLC along Pine Avenue to retain the old Florida look of the city and attract visitors.
She pointed out to county commissioners that a BACVB study of more than 225,000 visitors determined that the No. 2 attraction for those surveyed is the Historic Anna Maria City Pier, while the No. 3 attraction is the Rod & Reel Pier a few hundred yards north.
The city might not have the number of accommodation units that its sister Island cities have, but visitors who stay in Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach will visit Anna Maria and its pier and other businesses, she said.
Barford also noted the efforts of the city’s transportation enhancement grant committee to beautify Pine Avenue and the city pier area.
“I believe the commissioners saw there was a difference in the city’s direction. It’s not the old attitude. We are a residential community, and always will be, but we are also supportive of tourist dollars and the marketing efforts of the Manatee County Tourism Development Council,” she said.
City and county commissioners also walked the beach along Bean Point and the areas Manatee County Natural Resources Department director Charlie Hunsicker will now include in the feasibility study required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
But it’s a long process before any sand nourishment will begin, said Hunsicker. It will take three to four years to get all the paperwork and funding in place before any renourishment can begin.
“That’s why we’re starting now,” Hunsicker said.
He estimated the cost of renourishing the Island at $25 million, including $3 million in engineering and study fees.
The federal government will fund 50 percent of the renourishment project, while the state of Florida and Manatee County will each provide 25 percent. The county’s portion is funded by the resort tax collected on room rentals.
Hunsicker said one reason that the cost estimate is higher than presented earlier this year is that the DEP study of renourishing Bean Point said groins should be installed to hold the new sand in place.
“Otherwise, the aggressive currents around the north end of the Island will just wash the sand away,” he said.
When completed, the feasibility study and scope of work for renourishment will be forwarded to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for review and an environmental impact report. “The Corps will determine the environmental impacts and determine if it meets their criteria,” Hunsicker said.
The Corps has previously approved two Island renourishment projects.
“Obviously, we have to work with everybody to make this project a success,” Hunsicker said.
County commissioners were encouraged by the city’s efforts.
“I’m very pleased with the city,” said County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a resident of Holmes Beach and former mayor.
“Mayor Barford did a great job. We saw a lot of effort and a helpful attitude. That certainly helped convince commissioners. It’s important to have the north end included in beach renourishment,” Whitmore said.
Another county commissioner also pleased with Barford’s efforts is Ron Getman. He originally had reservations about Anna Maria’s ability to meet the parking criteria, but changed his mind after viewing the public parking locations the city has provided.
“I’m very pleased with the effort,” Getman said. “I think the government of Anna Maria has done an excellent job in showing it wants to be involved and I fully support renourishing the north end of the Island.”
While the current estimate is that the project could begin in 2012-13, Hunsicker cautioned that this time-line is only a preliminary indication. “There is still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Anna Maria to hold beach workshops
Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said she will schedule a series of beach renourishment workshops with city residents at appropriate times in the coming years to discuss the project and how it will affect residents and the city.
The good news for property owners in the renourishment areas is that required easements to allow work crews and equipment on the beach are only for the duration of the project, and only from the property line to the water, the mayor said.
“We will have a lot to talk about. I want to make sure everyone is informed at every step,” she said.
Another beach project
Manatee County Department of Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker said a beach renourishment project planned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Coquina Beach and a small portion of Anna Maria near the Sandbar Restaurant should begin in 2009.
The FEMA project will be the conclusion of an ill-fated renourishment undertaken in 2006 by Goodloe Marine of Apollo Beach. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers canceled Goodloe’s permit for renourishment before the company had finalized its work at Coquina Beach and the .6 mile of beach in Anna Maria.