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Date of Issue: April 30, 2008

Concerns rise for Anna Maria beach renourishment

Anna Maria beaches might not be included in Manatee County’s planned 2011-12 beach renourishment project - or at least one section of the city’s eroded beach areas - if County Commissioner Ron Getman’s opinion holds water with the other six commissioners.

After hearing a presentation on Anna Maria beach renourishment by Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County birector of conservationlands management, Getman said he had reservations, particularly about the beach area known as Bean Point.

He said he didn’t believe there was enough beach access and parking spaces there to “justify the use of public dollars.”

Public parking for the Bean Point area is “woefully inadequate,” Getman said and it’s “not sufficient to consume millions of public dollars.” He suggested he would not want to “use public funds to benefit private land owners.”

Getman did say that the city’s west side beach area “probably is going to get enough votes to make it through,” although he also had questions about parking for that area.

He stressed, however, that his comments about Anna Maria beach renourishment are just his opinion and no vote has yet been taken on any renourishment plan.

“I’m just one of seven and I suspect it will come back again. It’s a serious issue,” he said, adding that including Anna Maria in the project is “not unanimous.”

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford related to her commission that Getman’s comments were very negative for the city in the renourishment project. She told city commissioners at their April 25 meeting that, based upon Getman’s opinion, she doesn’t believe the city will be included in the project.

The county is “cost-cutting and we are cut,” she said.

But Barford isn’t giving up without a fight. The county commission has not yet formally voted on the project and Anna Maria needs to “get very serious with our need here,” she noted.

The city will host the county commission - including Getman - at a May 30 lunch at the Sandbar Restaurant. Following lunch, city and county commissioners will tour Anna Maria’s two areas of major erosion and discuss the other renrourishment issue: public parking.

Barford said Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials came to the city last week to review the number of parking spaces the city needs to qualify for state funding and the situation “looks good.”

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who believes Anna Maria should be included in the project, said now is the time for Anna Maria to step up and convince other county commissioners the city welcomes visitors and beachgoers and should be included in the project.

However, she said, the 2008-09 budget is “going to be very tight.”

“I support looking at a way to fund Anna Maria. I just don’t know how we are going to go about doing it. We may have to look at creative ways to fund the project,” she said.

County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, whose district includes Anna Maria Island, agrees that Anna Maria belongs in the project. But funding for this beach renourishment is a bit tricky, since Anna Maria is not eligible for any federal funds because it opted out of the 2002 renourishment project.

That means the estimated $7.5 million cost to renourish Anna Maria beaches will have to be split 50-50 between the county and the state. That’s not the case with renourishing Coquina Beach or the Manatee Public Beach, where federal funds come into play.

With budgets being slashed and money tight, von Hahmann indicated it might be time to look at some “creative financing” to get Anna Maria included. 

Barford said it’s also a question of old attitudes and beliefs. Some county commissioners still believe Anna Maria is “elitist,” because it rejected the 2002 renourishment plan, she suggested, and that’s just not the case.

“We’re passionate about this beach renourishment project. We want to have it done and the entire city commission is behind the project,” she said, noting that none of the current commissioners were in office when the last beach renourishment project was rejected.

The city’s attitude has definitely changed, she said, and staff and city commissioners worked extremely hard two years ago to resolve the city’s parking issue and ensure adequate public parking for everyone - residents and visitors alike.

“It’s just Anna Maria,” that some county commissioners want to ax from the project, she observed.

She rejected any suggestion that the city doesn’t have enough beach accesses or parking.

Granted the city doesn’t have a large parking parking lot, but Anna Maria is going to have enough spaces to satisfy the DEP, said the mayor.

For now, the city will have to work to satisfy county commissioners of its sand needs.