County eyes major beach renourishment

Manatee County natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker is planning what he calls the “central beach” renourishment project for Anna Maria Island starting in 2014 or early 2015.

Hunsicker told the Manatee County Tourism Development Council at its June 18 meeting that the project would encompass much of the middle portion of the Island’s beaches, along with Bean Point and other Anna Maria areas.

The major problem, he said, is funding the estimated $19 million project.

It seems like every state along the Gulf of Mexico has a beach renourishment project planned, and 48 Florida coastal cities have applied to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for permits, along with funding by the state Legislature, Hunsicker said.

“There’s a lot of competition out there,” he said.

The good news is that the Anna Maria Island project is presently at the top of the state’s priority list of needed beach renourishment projects, he said.

Hunsicker estimated the state would fund about $4.6 million of the project, while the county beach renourishment fund should provide about the same amount. That leaves around $10 million to come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But there’s still no guarantee the corps will provide sufficient funding to make all parts of the project feasible, he cautioned.

“It’s possible we won’t have the $19 million when the corps makes its budget. It will give us some funding,” he noted, but he can’t guarantee it’s going to be enough from the federal government to cover the projected cost.

The county beach renourishment fund comes from the 5 percent tourism development tax collected on rentals of six months or less. The tax is often called the resort, or bed, tax. The county reserves 1 cent of every 5 cents collected for beach renourishment projects.

Hunsicker estimated the renourishment fund currently holds about $3 million.

Some portions of the project not included in the $19 million estimate are funded by other sources.

Before dredging begins in one designated borrow area in the Gulf of Mexico, Port Dolphin LLC, the company constructing a pipeline facility to accommodate natural gas transfers by tankers about 20 miles west-northwest of the Island to Port Manatee, has pledged $4.8 million to the county. Those funds were designated because the transfer facility and pipeline will prohibit future dredging there of the sands — prime beach sands — for renourishment of AMI beaches.

Most of the sand dredged from the pipeline borrow area, which is near the north end of Anna Maria Island, would be used for Anna Maria’s beaches, Hunsicker said.

Included in the plan is the removal and replacement of the three groins erected in the 1950s at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. The groins would be replaced with semi-permeable groins that allow some sand to pass underneath. In their current condition, Hunsicker said they are in danger of collapsing and are closed to the public.

TDC board member Barbara Rodocker questioned the wisdom of spending all that money to “fool Mother Nature,” but Hunsicker said renourishment does more than just keep the beaches looking good for visitors.

A solid, renourished beach supports beachfront structures, roads along the beach, houses and apartments near the beach, and keeps Gulf Drive — the Island’s north-south artery — operational, he said.

It’s still a lot of money for sand that washes away, Rodocker responded.

Hunsicker also said BP, as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, is providing a large sum of money to the five Gulfcoast states for environmental restoration.

How the money received by Florida is distributed has yet to be been determined, he said, but all of Florida — except Okeechobee County — is considered a coastal area.

Hunsicker said he and county commissioners are writing state legislators about Anna Maria Island’s needs, and asking them to consider allocating some BP funds to Manatee County for coastal repairs.

The renourishment project is expected to begin sometime in 2014, Hunsicker said.

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