Residents hoping for a major sand restoration on Longboat’s beaches starting in November 2011 may have to wait another year.
But the Town Commission says the postponement would only benefit the Key.
Worried that town taxpayers won’t approve an approximately $41 million island-wide beach project question on the March ballot, the Town Commission is considering postponing the project until November 2012.
However, the commission decided at its Monday, Dec. 6 regular meeting to ask the voters March 8 to fund a sand-and-structure project for the eroded north end of the island, which originally was included as part of the $41 million project. That project is expected to cost approximately $8 million.
“We made a commitment to the people on the north end to fix that problem,” said Commissioner David Brenner.
But the Town Commission thinks that moving forward with the $33 million beach project next year may not be the best decision.
There are several lingering factors that lead credence to that belief.
A $5 million credit from Port Dolphin LLC, a company that is placing a natural-gas pipeline through a swath of Gulf-bottom rich with beach-quality sand, is not definite.
And the town must bump the beach project up from November 2012 to November 2011 to be eligible for the credit, but even then the reimbursement is not guaranteed, Town Manager Bruce St. Denis has said.
“We wouldn’t even be looking at this project now if Port Dolphin project wasn’t in the picture,” said Commissioner Phillip Younger.
And the commission is aware that a depressed economy means residents will not be willing to overwhelmingly approve beach projects like they have in the past.
On Monday, the commission strongly urged St. Denis to consider looking at other ways to hold sand island-wide before asking the voters to continue to bring sand to shore via a dredge at a high price.
“We will convince our voters the project is a better sale if we explore all our options first,” Brenner said.
Younger and Commissioner Robert Siekmann agreed, suggesting the town also needs to start trying to find both grant and federal dollars to pay for future projects.
Although St. Denis agreed to look into other ways to do beach projects, he told the commission if there were another way to perform the beach project, the town would already be doing it.
And St. Denis warned the commission delaying the project until November 2012 could cost the town an extra $9 million after factoring in the potential loss of the Port Dolphin money and an extra $4 million for additional sand that would be needed after another year of sand loss. That could potentially push the project’s cost to more than $45 million.
In contrast, both the beach project and north-end structure project could cost approximately $36 million if the town moved forward with both in 2011 and the $5 million Port Dolphin credit is received.
But the warning didn’t seem to faze the majority of the commission.
“It’s a $9 million crapshoot,” Siekmann said. “I think we all realize that.”
And Brenner again warned that if the town doesn’t prove to the taxpayers this beach project is the best option, the entire project could be turned down.
“This is an enormous amount of money we are talking about,” Brenner said. “I would rather spend a year educating the public and letting them know all the things we have tried. We will fall flat on our face if we don’t.”
Siekmann agreed to withdraw a motion to postpone the beach project at St. Denis’ request until the topic can be discussed again at the commission’s 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16 regular workshop.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.
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