- March 11, 2020
Longboat Key residents will head to the polls on March 17 to make a decision that could stay with them for the next eight years.
Oh, and at least some will vote for a presidential candidate, too.
With no Town Commission races to be decided this election cycle – commissioners-elect BJ Bishop and Sherry Dominick faced no opposition and will be sworn in on March 23 – the only local issue for all residents to decide is borrowing for the town’s next beach management program. Republicans, Democrats and voters with no party affiliations are eligible to vote.
Voters in both the Bayside and Gulfside districts will cast ballots separately to authorize the town to borrow up to $34.5 million over no more than eight years to pour upwards of 1 million cubic yards of sand on four erosional hotspots: the north end, a stretch around Whitney Beach, a larger spot on the mid-island and the area north of New Pass. Five sand-saving groins are also in the plan for the north end.
Gulfside residents would pay 80% of the debt, Bayside residents 20% if both sides approve the measure.
Town officials stress the terms of the borrowing listed on the ballot are maximums. Over the course of three previous cycles of voter authorization and borrowing for beach projects, about $51 million in borrowing was OK’d, but the town borrowed about $40 million.
The current $34.5 million figure is based on the borrowing for the project without any state reimbursement. Such refunds are competitive and can’t be guaranteed, but town officials said some kind of consideration is likely based on previous experience. Town staffers have been making the rounds of homeowner and condo groups of late, discussing the ballot issue, the finances behind it and delivering a Beach 101 session.
On Tuesday at Town Hall, before about a dozen residents, Public Works Director Isaac Brownman, Finance Director Sue Smith and Project Manager Charlie Mopps ran through what voters can expect and explained a lot of the whys behind beach renourishment, the construction of groins and how beaches themselves work.
“The town does invest a lot of time and taxpayer money into how those beaches are managed,’’ Brownman said. “People might say ‘why is this done, why is so much time and effort and money spent on the beaches?’ The shoreline of Longboat Key is a core and key asset to the island itself.’’
Throughout the island’s history, though, wide recreational beaches weren’t always seen as an amenity. As late as 1993, the beaches were narrower and armored with seawalls, rock revetments and groins designed to protect property from erosion. Brownman said those structures often performed their primary duty at the expense of the beach itself.
Since then, the town has chosen to manage and engineer its beaches with periodic renourishment and maintenance projects. The project under consideration now includes construction of five groins in the north end, designed to lock sand into one of the island’s most dynamic areas.
Mopps said not only will those groins cut down on the eastward growth of Greer Island, but also keep beaches to the south healthier longer. He said an engineered beach, which describes the length of Longboat Key's shoreline, is a better defense against storm surges and potential hazards from sea level rise than the old-style concrete structures while also maintaining an optimum nesting site for sea turtles and shorebirds.
"When we develop these beaches, you always see the big dune system,'' Mopps said. "That's the protection against sea level rise and storm surge protection. It's kind of hitting two key elements for the price of one.''