April 12, 2024

Property access battle slows down beach renourishment in Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The dunes and beaches in Pinellas County have taken a beating during the last few storms, but bringing back all the missing sand has turned into a property access battle.

It is very expensive to put new sand on beaches.

“Tens of millions of dollars or even more and historically, our local governments, like Pinellas County, have saved up money to do that work, but also get a cost share from the federal government, usually 50% or more,” Representative Lindsay Cross said.

The federal partner that has fronted that cost has been the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Cross is one of the people fighting for Congress to have the Corps change its policy.

“Where they’re now requiring that 100% of the people that live within this designated strip of beach that’s going to be renourished, that they sign over a perpetual — that means forever and ever — easement to the federal government, to provide access to their property,” she said.

She said in the past, local partners, like Pinellas County, have had the ability to front some of the cost themselves, and get short easements from property owners to make the project work.

She said the opportunity for change is coming up this year.

“The Water Resource Development Act, where Congress has the ability to tell the Army Corps of Engineers to change this policy and go back to the way it used to be, where the federal government was helping to cooperate with these local partners to get these projects done,” Cross said.

News Channel 8 reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville, and they sent us a statement that was made in September.

They said its policy requires permanent access easements from every resident in a project area, and that lack of support from property owners has led to delays.

Some beachgoers said even if it means forever access, the dunes need to be protected.

“This beach is not going to continue to exist with the tropical storms, and the hurricanes, and all of that without the protection of the dunes,” Cheyenne Brooks said.

Other think that access should be limited.

“I feel like they should have access, but not just do whatever, whenever, they don’t need to have the full, complete control,” Shannon Dailey said.

With the easements being perpetual, the Corps said that means they will be able to maintain the project, along with the county, and it forever remains open to the public.

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