Longboat Key Commissioner Phillip Younger surprised Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and the rest of the commission with a new beach referendum option at the Monday, Jan. 3 regular meeting.
Younger submitted a five-page document that explained why he believes the town should ask voters to approve a single $15 million referendum that would incorporate structures for the north end to hold sand there and allow for sand to be extracted from a future natural-gas pipeline corridor at the bottom of the Gulf.
If approved, the project would build structures to stop the erosion on the north end and provide sand for both the north end and other erosion hot spots island-wide where the town sees fit.
In December, the commission was leaning toward asking taxpayers to fund both an approximately $36 million island-wide beach project and a $6.2 million project to bring some sand-holding structures to the north end.
But Younger believes an island-wide beach project is not necessary at this time.
“Except for the very north end, our beach is still 91% to 95% intact and has been accreting since 2008,” said Younger, in a prepared statement.
Because the town must move its municipal election from March 8 to March 15 because of scheduling conflicts with the Longboat Island Chapel polling location, the town now has until Friday, Jan. 7 to approve any beach referenda questions for the March ballot.
Town attorney David Persson suggested, and the Town Commission agreed, to postpone a decision until a 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6 special meeting.
Beach bonding officials told the commission they will work this week to make changes for the potential new question proposed by Younger.
At the special meeting, the commission will review Younger’s suggestion with town beach engineer Coastal Planning & Engineering (CP&E).
Younger noted that the 2009 annual beach report submitted by CP&E states that the town’s beaches are on track for an eight-year beach renourishment in 2013-14.
Although a $5 million credit from Port Dolphin LLC is the reason for the island-wide beach project being moved up to 2011-12, Younger doesn’t think that’s a good enough reason.
“Hastening renourishment by three years for the sake of Port Dolphin revenue appears vastly premature with little to no true cost benefits,” Younger said.
Younger’s suggestion allows the town to still receive the Port Dolphin sand to place on the island’s erosion hot spots, along with the $5 million credit.
Not everyone, however, was happy with Younger’s last-minute proposal.
Commissioner Hal Lenobel questioned why Younger did not submit his proposal to St. Denis earlier, which would have given town staff and the beach engineer time to digest it and have answers for it before the meeting.
“I don’t know if it will work,” said St. Denis after the meeting, in reference to Younger’s proposal. “There’s a lot of pieces to it, and we will develop it as best as we can and make a presentation Thursday. We are now talking about a redesign of the project in two days after this project has been in the works for two years.”
Also on Thursday, the commission will debate a suggestion by Commissioner David Brenner that the town get a second opinion from another beach engineer so the voters will have all the information needed before voting on beach questions on the ballot.
Although Brenner is in agreement that the north-end bond question needs to move forward, he is more hesitant about an island-wide beach project question being proposed this year.
Brenner cited a list of beach project variables that include: a Port Dolphin funding outcome; the results of an inlet management plan being performed; the final results of how the Islander groins are holding sand; and whether spot renourishment is more appropriate than island-wide renourishment.
Brenner said that the town must exercise caution when dealing with a beach project that could cost more than $40 million.
“It’s my proposal that no bonds should be issued until this commission has received a second opinion from a qualified engineering firm that concurs in what we are planning to do,” said Brenner, who believes the voters should have that opinion in hand before they go to the polls to make a decision. “Taking our time now can be an excuse for dragging our feet or doing the right thing for our taxpayers. There is no better time to re-examine our management approach than right now.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org