For decades taxpayers have been footing the bill to pump extra sand onto eroding beaches around Florida. But this coming year may be different.
Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget for next year includes no money for repairing any of Florida's 825 miles of sandy beaches.
By cutting out new state funding, Scott is guaranteeing that the millions of dollars in federal funds that go with it as a match are cut as well, warned state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole.
That would leave no money for already-scheduled renourishment projects, including two local ones, Treasure Island and Upham Beach.
"It's unfortunate, given how much the governor talks about jobs," Jones said, contending that Florida's tourism-based economy depends on regularly pumping more sand on its beaches.
Robin Grabowski, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, called it "a very unfortunate decision" by Scott. "I don't think he's looking at it from a long-term perspective."
So many beach communities want state funding this year that their requests total $101 million, state Department of Environmental Protection officials say. But Scott requested the Legislature appropriate nothing for renourishment.
Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham said the DEP has $75 million from prior years that it hasn't spent yet, but Deborah Flack, president of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, said that money is already committed to other renourishment projects — including one at Sand Key.
A 2003 study by Florida Atlantic University found that each state dollar spent protecting Florida's beaches that have public access prevents the loss of $8 in state taxes paid by out-of-state tourists and resident users of those beaches.
Barrier islands are not fixed in place. They move, waxing here, waning there, pushed and pulled as the waves wash their sand this way and that.
But once people began building homes and businesses on the beaches, they began looking for ways to make the movement stop. Engineers have been using new sand — dug up offshore and pumped to the land — to boost the size of beaches since 1922, when Coney Island needed enhancement.
Since then, more than 300 major renourishment projects have been pursued nationwide, dumping a total of 517 million cubic yards of sand on the country's waning beachfronts, according to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Florida's beaches have reaped the greatest number of federally funded renourishment projects. Thirty-five of Florida's 67 counties have used taxpayer money to artificially enhance their beaches. Pinellas County's beaches have been renourished repeatedly since 1966.
The DEP has designated about 399 miles of the state's 825 miles of sandy beaches as "critically eroded." Since 1998, the state has spent $489.78 million on beach renourishment projects on 218 miles of that 399.
Thirteen years ago the Legislature voted to spend up to $30 million a year on beach renourishment, with the money coming from the sale of documentary stamps applied to real estate transactions. But when the real estate market collapsed, the money from documentary stamps eroded more rapidly than any beach.
"The last few years have been a struggle," Flack said. Still, the state Legislature has come up with about $15 million a year for the past two years.
Skipping a year of funding might not seem like a big deal, said Indian Rocks Town Council member Bill Smith, who serves on the board of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
"One year is probably not much of an issue except it means more sand will be needed next year so it will be more expensive," he said.
However, he said, "the longer we wait, the more erosion occurs and the more expensive beach renourishment will be. And the narrower the beach, the less protection it offers from hurricanes."
Craig Pittman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org