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Clock ticking on federal funding for beach renourishment

Indian Rocks Beach renourishment continued on Friday, but time is running out for Treasure Island, where federal funding could end by 2019.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Indian Rocks Beach renourishment continued on Friday, but time is running out for Treasure Island, where federal funding could end by 2019.

TREASURE ISLAND

Residents here and in other beach towns have gotten used to the idea that every few years, federal taxpayers will cough up the money to renourish the beaches. It's an understanding between the federal and local governments that may not go on for much longer.

In seven years, Treasure Island's eroding beaches won't get any new sand unless Congress reauthorizes the city's 50-year-old beach renourishment program, set to expire in 2019.

City and county officials are working to make sure that does not happen.

Treasure Island is the second city in the country to be affected by the sunsetting of the federal beach renourishment program that began in the 1960s.

The first beach project, in Carolina Beach, N.C., will run out in 2015 and is expected to be a test case for what could happen in Florida.

Other Pinellas County beaches have more time before their beach renourishment could end.

Funding authorization for renourishment for St. Pete Beach will run out in 2030. Sand Key, encompassing beach cities from Madeira Beach north to Clearwater, will continue to be eligible through 2043.

Treasure Island received its first beach nourishment in 1969 and since then has been renourished 14 times, according to county records.

Beach renourishment involves dredging sand from the Gulf of Mexico and pumping it onto eroding beaches through flexible pipelines. The new sand is then distributed by bulldozers to ensure that beaches are restored to at least a 40-foot width.

Pinellas County beaches were named the Best Restored Beach by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association in 2006.

The renourishment project not only restores the beaches, but helps to protect upland properties from storms, and provides areas conducive to tourism and recreation.

Federal funding for Treasure Island's Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction project was originally authorized for 50 years, a period that can be extended only after new studies of current beach conditions — and a specific Congressional appropriations request by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Last month, Mayor Bob Minning and Commissioner Alan Bildz met with the corps in Naples during a meeting of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.

Minning said "2019 is going to come very quickly, so we need to get our ducks in order. The corps is very supportive and looks at Treasure Island as a test case for Florida."

The corps already has started an initial appraisal, including a benefit-cost analysis, of future renourishment needs for Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach, according to Matthew Schrader, the corps' technical expert for coastal planning and policy in Jacksonville.

The corps' Atlanta headquarters is expected to review that study this winter and determine whether there is a "continued federal interest" in providing funding for beach renourishment in the two cities.

If that decision is positive, the corps would then submit a budget request for a more in-depth feasibility study, the cost of which would normally be shared with Pinellas County and Florida.

"If the feasibility study determines that continuing the project is justified, congressional authorization for construction will be required prior to federal participation beyond the current 50-year period," Schrader said.

The entire process could likely take years to complete.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, has been responsible for helping to secure more than $100 million for renourishment in Pinellas County.

Young is currently working to secure emergency federal funding for extensive erosion on Sunset Beach caused by Tropical Storm Debby. A spokesperson in his office said Young is well aware of the 2019 deadline.

The city's beaches are also scheduled for regular renourishment next year and possibly another round before the 2019 deadline, providing federal funds are appropriated. Renourishment is usually performed about every three to four years.

"We are hoping we can get Treasure Island reauthorized," said Andy Squires, Pinellas County's coastal manager. "There are a lot of beaches that will run out as well. If we can't get the federal funding, we and the state will be on our own."

Currently, funding is shared by the county, state and federal governments in a 60-20-20 split. The county's share is paid for through tourist development taxes.

In the past, the federal portion was budgeted through automatic earmarks requested by individual members of Congress. That practice is no longer allowed and all federal spending must now compete for inclusion in the federal budget.

Clock ticking on federal funding for beach renourishment 10/13/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 4:31am]
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