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Commission lobbying for renourishment funds

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

Manatee County commissioners are lobbying state officials to continue Florida’s commitment for renourishment projects.

The county board drafted a letter to the legislative delegation urging support for beach renourishment at the state level.

Gov. Rick Scott, in his proposed fiscal 2011-12 budget, omitted renourishment funding.

Such an omission would not impact this spring’s renourishment of a small section of beach in Anna Maria and large sections of Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

And a second renourishment project, set to take place on the north end of the Island next year, would be supported by Port Dolphin Energy, which is building a deepwater port and gas pipeline in the region. An agreement between the company and the state was struck to alleviate concerns about the project’s impact on renourishment sand in Tampa Bay.

However, the county has long planned for a massive Islandwide renourishment for 2014-15 and needs state support.

So later this month, County Commission Chair Carol Whitmore plans to go to Tallahassee to meet with Scott.

Additionally, county commissioners plan to lobby legislators as they wade into the politics of the 2011 legislative session.

A draft of a letter to lawmakers on renourishment was approved at the commission’s March 15 meeting.

“Healthy beaches are one of Florida’s most valuable assets: They are a linchpin to the tourism revenues of coastal communities across Florida and, in particular, Manatee County,” stated the letter. “As such, the protection of beach renourishment funding is a top priority of the Manatee Board of County Commissioners and the Manasota League of Cities.”

Eliminating state funding jeopardizes federal funding, because the U.S. government program requires matching funds, the letter said.

The current resolution keeping the federal government operating while Congress negotiates an overdue fiscal budget includes more than $1 million for the Anna Maria Island Shore Protection Project. But to carry out the project, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has requested $909,000 in funding assistance.

“It is imperative that the project move forward and we hope that the governor will reconsider and support funding for this project and others on the state priority list, especially those with matching federal funding,” the letter stated.

The correspondence stressed the connection between sand and cents. “Florida’s beaches are clearly an economic engine that drives the state’s coastal cities and counties,” stated the letter. “Beaches remain our No. 1 tourist attraction — 80.9 million visitors traveled to Florida in 2009, adding $60.9 billion sales dollars to our economy.”

The county commissioners maintain that out-of-state tourists visiting Florida beaches in 2007 spent $20 billion, beach tourism increased state tax revenues by $1 billion that year and spending by vacationing beachgoers created 400,000 jobs in 2007.

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