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Date of Issue: August 20, 2008

County nixes renourishment of some Anna Maria beaches

Manatee County commissioners voted last week to proceed with a “long-range beach erosion-control plan” for renourishing Anna Maria Island beaches, but very little of the sand will land on city of Anna Maria shores.

Only the .6 mile portion of beach near the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria that was part of the 2002 renourishment project will be included in the long-range plan.

Manatee County Natural Resources Department director Charlie Hunsicker included several Anna Maria beach areas identified by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as “critically eroded” when he presented the project to the commission in May.

However, as with most all government spending during these economic times, there’s a question of money.

While the county pays for beach renourishment with the “bed tax” it collects from all short-term accommodation rentals, a significant portion of any renourishment project is eligible for state and federal funding, reducing the county’s obligation.

Many Anna Maria beachfront property owners opted out of the previous project and those areas are now ineligible for state and federal renourishment funds. The county would have to pay for new renourishment areas in Anna Maria out of its own accounts, such as the bed tax fund.

But some county commissioners have complained publicly that Anna Maria, which is more residential than the other Island cities, doesn’t contribute enough to the bed tax fund to warrant the additional $3 million estimated cost to renourish those areas.

Also, County Commissioner Ron Getman has criticized the city’s attitude toward the beach-going public.

He has said there is not enough beach access and parking spaces in Anna Maria 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 said he would not want to “use public funds to benefit private landowners.”

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said she did not yet have all the details of the Aug. 12 county commission vote, including exactly what areas will be slashed in the next renourishment project. The initial news, however, is not encouraging.

The county is “cost-cutting and we are cut,” Barford said in May, when she first heard Getman’s comments.

Barford, however, isn’t giving up without a fight.

A planned joint meeting in late May between the Anna Maria city commission and county commissioners failed to materialize because of an emergency county commission meeting elsewhere that day.

The mayor said she will continue to push for that meeting, and she’s got an ally in some members of the Manatee County Tourism Development Council, including Sandbar owner Ed Chiles and Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens.

The TDC will hold a November workshop to discuss potential funding sources to pay for renourishment of the Anna Maria beaches.

Hunsicker said he’s also pushing for a city-county commission meeting prior to the November TDC workshop.

On a brighter note, Hunsicker said he’s “aware of available funding” for the Anna Maria portion, but he would “prefer to wait until everyone is available and present at a meeting” before discussing the options.

Hunsicker explained further that the long-range plan authorized by the county commission is only for those areas renourished in 2002. No new shoreline areas in Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach are included in the current renourishment plan.

The requirement for beachfront property owners to grant the county a permanent easement for beach renourishment has since been modified for the next project to extend only for the life of the renourishment effort. That’s a condition that has met with favor from the vast majority of beachfront property owners, who have now indicated a willingness to grant the easement.

If the Anna Maria beaches considered “seriously eroded” are included in the next renourishment project, the cost has been estimated at $16 million.

With a cost-of-living increase of 5 percent annually, that figure would likely rise to more than $20 million by 2012.