INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Beach cities are worried Pinellas County won't be able to properly manage $40-million in beach renourishment projects scheduled for next year.
Last week, the beach cities' concerns about future sand renourishment erupted during a Barrier Islands Governmental Council meeting.
"Our concern is that we now don't have the coastal engineering expertise to handle upcoming projects," said council chairman and Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence.
That concern will be aired at a special meeting later this month with officials from the county and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The meeting is at 10 a.m. Oct. 26 at Indian Shores town hall.
Three beach renourishment projects are scheduled for next year: Sand Key from south of Clearwater Pass to North Redington Beach; Treasure Island's Sunset Beach; and the Upham Beach area in St. Pete Beach.
Areas south of the primary renourishment areas will be built up through natural "downdrift."
Sand pumped onto beaches will be obtained from dredging Blind Pass and John's Pass, as well as from offshore in the Sand Key area.
The Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach projects are scheduled for the spring, while the Sand Key project is planned for later in the year or early 2011.
For years, the 11 cities along the Gulf of Mexico relied on the supervision and expertise of the county's former coastal management director, Dr. Nicole Elko.
Then this summer, they learned her position was eliminated as a budget-cutting measure.
That prompted an anxious letter from Lawrence to County Administrator Bob LaSala.
"From Clearwater Beach to St. Pete Beach, these Gulf Beaches, the major attraction for our tourist industry and the revenue it generates, have never been in better shape thanks to Dr. Elko's beach re-nourishment successes," Lawrence wrote.
He called her a "stalwart beach advocate" and an "ideal candidate" to continue as a consultant for the county.
Then, last month, Elko was fired by LaSala when he discovered she had performed consulting work for other communities while working full time for the county.
The worry among beach cities renewed.
"A lot of people don't see our permits getting filed in a timely manner anymore," Treasure Island Commissioner Alan Bildz said at a meeting last month. Bildz represents sand-starved Sunset Beach.
"We have got to watch the county like a hawk to make sure they do what they are supposed to do," Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard said. "They have a big learning curve to catch up on to get this project going on time."
Treasure Island Mayor Robert Minning echoed that concern, adding that representatives from the Corps of Engineers were worried as well.
He said he was told by corps officials during a Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association meeting that they "were not satisfied that the county can provide the necessary expertise."
Minning said the corps, if necessary, would hire its own consultants to ensure permitting is completed on schedule.
"The corps wants to award the project in December so the work can start shortly thereafter," Minning said.
As for Elko's firing, Minning also had strong opinions.
"It was very, very unfortunate that it happened and very unfortunate the way it was handled. It was egg on the county's face," he said.
One person who is not worried over future beach renourishment is Pinellas County Environmental Management Director Will Davis.
"There will be no blip in the schedule, the ball isn't going to get dropped," Davis said Tuesday. "The county realizes how important the beaches are to economy."