The shattered groins at Cortez Beach play a pivotal role in preventing beach erosion, but they have been a liability and an eyesore for years. They are scheduled to be rebuilt in 2013 with a new design.
A full spectrum of shore protection objectives was discussed at the Nov. 21 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials, the first meeting held in several months.
Manatee County Natural Resources Department director Charlie Hunsicker addressed Anna Maria Island officials and Manatee County commissioners gathered at Bradenton Beach City Hall.
The broken groins at Cortez Beach were among the topics discussed, with Hunsicker saying funding is in place to begin the long-awaited replacement of the groins in 2013.
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, a former Bradenton Beach mayor, said the groins, even in their current state, have proven to be a valuable tool in preventing beach erosion.
“We were asked to remove them completely, but that’s not what we wanted to do,” said Chappie. “At the time, there was no intention to replace them, but we knew the state would eventually change its mind. I know they have presented an eyesore to the beach, but we knew that even their footprint was helping to prevent beach erosion.”
Hunsicker presented a design of the groins that will have a pier-like presence at the beach.
“Four years ago, the state wouldn’t have let us do that,” he said. “So we have an opportunity now to build an erosion control structure that can also be a recreational amenity.”
Hunsicker also went into detail about the county’s hopes for when it begins to receive payments from the Restore Act of 2012, passed by Congress following the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.
Hunsicker said BP has not yet paid for the environmental damage caused by the explosion and subsequent oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico, which temporarily devastated fisheries, businesses and tourism along the Gulf Coast.
The Restore Act established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, but each state was allowed to develop its own model for receiving payment. Louisiana, for example will have funds paid straight to the governor’s office, while Florida’s model calls for funds to flow directly in to its 23 Gulf Coast counties.
“The three island cities are part of our Gulf, so we are going to be inclusive with the community when looking at projects under the criteria of the fund,” said Hunsicker.
Manatee County’s estimated share of the BP damages settlement range from $4.7 million to more than $19 million. Hunsicker said the expected amount could be close to $15 million.
“We have to hold our priorities first when looking ahead to our needs versus wants,” he said.
County Commissioner Carol Whitmore has been appointed as the Manatee County representative at an upcoming 23-county consortium. Hunsicker said it’s like a “mini legislative” meeting to begin the discussion on the settlement and how much each county receives.
In the meantime, he said, “We don’t know how much money is coming to us, but we can still bring the community together and ask for their input.”
Hunsicker said the county has put together a form for potential projects and that the process of identifying priorities will be completely transparent.
“When the projects come in, we’ll post them on our website,” he said. “Everyone will be able to see in real time applications come in and how they are whittled down.”
Hunsicker cautioned county commissioners to be wise in choosing projects to be funded by the BP settlement.
“If we can try to match these projects with our comprehensive plan proposals, we’ll be in a good place and are not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves are we dealing with needs or wants? Here’s an opportunity with an airdrop of millions of dollars to satisfy our needs first before we move over to our wants.”
Hunsicker said convincing others that beach renourishment projects are cheaper as a preventative measure continues to be a challenge.
Anna Maria Island is currently listed as the No. 1 priority for beach renourishment and work is expected to begin in 2014.
“I’m convinced that a strong beach limits property damage,” said Hunsicker. “We know that sand is the way we can make our island safer.”
The county first began renourishment efforts in 1992, and the island has been in a 10-year cycle, with the last full renourishment effort taking place in 2002.
Hunsicker said it’s difficult to see the importance of renourishment through the eyes of a beachgoer.
“They see us put all this sand on the beach and a lot of it is washed away in a few weeks, but that’s not how renourishment works,” he said. “Beaches are like an iceberg. What you see on the beach is only the tip.”