Taxpayers will be asked March 8 if they want to fund an approximately $36 million island-wide beach project and a $6.2 million project to bring some structures to the severely eroded north end of the island.
At its Thursday, Dec. 16 regular workshop, the Town Commission made the decision to place two separate questions on the springtime ballot.
In total, the projects are expected to cost between $35.2 million and $43.2 million after potential savings.
The cost of the project will be about $35 million if a reimbursement from Port Dolphin LLC is received. The natural-gas pipeline company, which recently issued an intent to issue a permit for its project, will fund the money if the town removes some beach-quality sand before Port Dolphin lays down a pipeline on the bottom of the Gulf.
The commission has the option of performing the beach project in either 2011 or 2012. If the sand is placed island-wide in 2012, though, the sand project will cost an extra $4 million (Town Manager Bruce St. Denis estimates that cost should cover additional sand loss between now and when the beach project would be performed in 2012).
The structures for the north end, which could be a combination of groins or breakwaters, will be constructed no earlier than 2012 if approved by the voters.
The decision was not an easy one.
Worried that taxpayers won’t fund a $45 million project unless all other options are exhausted first, the Key’s seven commissioners wanted to make sure the project couldn’t be performed any cheaper by using alternative beach technologies.
But after St. Denis brought Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) official Paden Woodruff and professor Robert Dean, from the University of Florida, to the podium, both who said alternative technologies won’t work to hold the island’s beach, the lingering questions appeared to be answered.
Woodruff reviewed a series of experimental technologies that FDEP has permitted over the years, noting that none of them has worked. Even an artificial seaweed project performed in the early 1980s on the south end of Longboat Key failed, Woodruff noted.
“Getting a permit for an experimental project is difficult,” Woodruff said.
And Dean, who has monitored Florida’s beaches since the 1960s, told the commission that only beach-renourishment projects would keep the Key’s beaches as healthy as they are today.
“Beach renourishment has been proven to be very effective, as have adjustable groins,” Dean said. “Any other innovative technology has generally been ineffective.”
Dean told the commission he reviewed the town’s beach-management plan and has been monitoring the Key’s beaches since 1966. He told the commission that when he monitored Longboat Pass in 1966, he believed “a terminal structure could render that area quite stable.”
“The beach management plan is quite sensible and deliberate,” Dean said. “It’s very much on target.”
Vice Mayor Jim Brown asked Dean if he thought the town could ever control the rising costs of the current renourishment project.
Said Dean: “I would hope costs can be controlled in the future after demand from the dredges subsides. In the meantime, the question you should ask yourself is, ‘What is Longboat Key without its beaches?’”
And Woodruff told the commission that although it may take 10 years to accomplish, the town needs to start applying for federal money to help pay for its projects and working with its counties and nearby cities to regionalize projects to defray costs.
St. Denis told the commission he will bring back a future agenda item that explains the process of securing state and federal dollars for beach projects.
What could be a controversial issue in obtaining those federal dollars, however, is increasing the island’s beach-access points and parking spaces for those access points, which is required to receive state and federal beach project dollars.
Although the referendum questions will be brought forward to the commission’s 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3 regular meeting for approval, Commissioner David Brenner still wants a second opinion from another beach engineer.
“I am prepared to spend a few extra bucks to make sure this is the way to go,” said Brenner.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]