The Longboat Key Town Commission’s decision to approve a $16 million beach referendum last week that largely affects the north end of the island has left lingering questions about how the town wants the rest of its 10 miles of beaches to look.
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told the Longboat Observer he will have a candid discussion with the commission at its Thursday, Jan. 20 regular workshop because he needs one major question answered.
“I need to know what kind of beach the commission wants moving forward,” St. Denis said. “I don’t know what the island-wide beach project is anymore.”
The town manager appeared visibly frustrated at the special beach meeting Jan. 6, during which three separate island-wide beach projects were proposed (for $20 million, $27.2 million and $34.6 million), all of which the commission vetoed, despite St. Denis’ insistence that any project cheaper than the $35 million project proposed wouldn’t work.
The commission eventually voted to place a referendum on the March ballot that would bring structures to the north end and allow for sand to be extracted from a future natural-gas pipeline corridor at the bottom of the Gulf for placement on the north end and other erosion hot spots.
“The type of project we have been seeking a permit for over the last two years was for a white sand, island-wide project that is projected to cost approximately $35 million,” St. Denis said.
Putting a lesser number on the project, St. Denis said, would have been fruitless because the town doesn’t have a permit for any other type of project. The commission instead decided to delay any island-wide beach project.
“Now we are saying the project is too much and I understand that,” St. Denis said. “But we can’t all of a sudden cut that project by a third and expect the same results.”
For instance, St. Denis says if the town wants a $20 million island-wide beach project in the future, changes need to be made to the town’s beach-management plan.
Those changes would include wording that finer, white sand is too expensive, a 130-foot-wide and 6-foot-high beach isn’t necessary and the town doesn’t need to renourish every six to eight years.
Any of those changes or a combination of those scenarios would help reduce the project’s cost — and the amount of sand the island receives — moving forward, but St. Denis warns of possible effects if hurricanes threaten the island’s shore.
“We can change how we perform beach projects, but if we have a couple of major storms we will have to do more beach maintenance,” St. Denis said. “Making any modifications moving forward has repercussions.”
Despite Commissioner Phillip Younger’s claim that most of the island’s beach has maintained its overall width, St. Denis says changing the beach-management plan would cause a noticeable difference.
That’s because if sand isn’t put down every eight years, or more frequently in erosion-prone areas, St. Denis says the south-end beach that benefits from sand coming from the north end won’t maintain its width.
St. Denis said changing the beach management plan would also adversely affect residents on the north end who depend on the sand every six to eight years.
“I strongly urge storm protection to be the top priority,” St. Denis said. “If a storm comes, you need a high, wide beach, or your structures will not withstand the storm. If storm protection isn’t a top priority, we are saying we are willing to take a risk on certain portions of the island not being in a good position for severe storms.”
Younger, meanwhile, said the town needs more time to assess the renourishment program. The next island-wide project was originally scheduled for 2014.
“I totally support renourishment and maintaining beaches,” Younger said. “But it appears wise to review the renourishment policy and base it more on the triggering of events rather than a set year policy.”
To view a chart displaying town beach projects and their costs, click here.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]