Rumors of the next beach renourishment project’s startup have been floating around the island for months.
In fact, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox was told earlier this year to prepare to move sea turtle nests during nesting season, which came May 1 and went Oct. 31.
But rumors were put to rest Dec. 5 when Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker told a full gallery at the Bradenton Beach City Commission meeting that renourishment will begin Dec. 11.
Islanders can expect to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors mobilize heavy equipment to begin what Hunsicker called a “sight to see.”
The project involves an offshore dredge, from which sand is pumped to shore in a pipeline, and moved and smoothed with heavy equipment into a beach extending beyond the present shoreline.
Hunsicker said the $16 million project was made possible by a federal emergency spending bill passed after damages from Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012 were assessed.
About 75 percent of the project will be funded through the federal spending bill with Manatee County resort development tax funds and state funds each paying 12 percent.
“We are the beneficiary of good, white, fine-grained sand and are the envy of many places around the world,” said Hunsicker, who noted that the island beaches are the most important tourist attraction in the county.
Hunsicker explained the natural process of sand movement in the Gulf of Mexico’s wave action. But storms such as Debby can have devastating consequences to the natural development of beaches.
He said it’s better to have a beach take the brunt of a storm rather than a residential or business district, which can result in the loss of tax dollars.
Hunsicker said it’s proven that a community with a healthy beach fares better from a storm event than a community with an unhealthy beach. For that reason alone, he said, upkeep of the island beaches is vital.
The project is expected to end around mid-February, at which time a second phase unrelated to the main project will take place at Coquina Beach.
The Coquina Beach project is expected to end sometime in late March or early April.
Also scheduled: the replacement of three erosion-control groins along Cortez Beach, which is expected to be completed sometime in early 2015.
In other business, commissioners put the cell tower proposal on hold.
It was an action item the prior commission tried to get done before the Nov. 5 election, but was unable to do so in time and now the cell tower proposal has hit its first obstacle under the new administration — one commissioner publicly opposed the cell tower as a citizen.
City attorney Ricinda Perry brought forward an easement request needed by Verizon to run underground cable to the proposed cell tower site at the end of Church Avenue and next to the public works building where a land-lease agreement has been authorized by the prior board.
Commissioner Janie Robertson previously opposed the location and the idea of the city giving up public property for a private venture.
Perry said the 10-foot easement was necessary for the cell tower to function, but Verizon submitted only a text description of the easement.
Robertson said at the meeting that the description was too difficult to comprehend and that it appeared to add up to a lot more than 10 feet.
Perry agreed, saying it is typical for a sketch to be included in an easement description, but Verizon did not submit one.
“It looks like our new parking lot is being leased away,” said Robertson. “I don’t know if I want to do that.” She said her understanding is that “we can’t do anything with our property because there is some underground wiring there.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh and Vice Mayor Ed Straight remain on the commission and support the cell tower proposal and location.
“I don’t see any other choice,” said Straight. “We have to have a cell tower.”
Robertson said the location ties the city’s hands for decades and said the city couldn’t even plant a tree in the easement if it wants.
“I think the whole thing needs to be rethought,” she said.
Vosburgh suggested an expert be brought in to explain the easement to Robertson and Mayor Bill Shearon asked Perry if the matter is time sensitive.
Perry said it was not and suggested a presentation, including a sketch of the easement, from Verizon would be a good idea.
Commissioner Jack Clarke moved to table the Verizon easement until a later date, which was seconded by Straight and unanimously approved.