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Pinellas officials worry about availability of federal funds for beach renourishment

CLEARWATER — This June, the county will start the first of $16 million in beach renourishment projects on Treasure Island's Sunshine and Sunset beaches before moving on to Upham and Pass-a-Grille in St. Pete Beach, all of which have been damaged by erosion.

Over the next 10 years, and not including this summer's work, the county and state are expected to spend roughly $65 million repairing Pinellas' coastline.

On Tuesday, Pinellas County officials worried about the future of the beaches without federal earmarks or its long-serving congressman to turn to for help.

"We no longer have Bill Young to help us along and champion funding for our beaches, among other things," coastal manager Andy Squires told Pinellas commissioners. "Federal budgets are tightening and sea levels are rising."

In a report to the commission, Squires — who recently spent several days in Washington, D.C., meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other coastal managers — said the Corps' priorities may shift away from beach restoration as the agency tries to pare down its budget. This could become especially problematic in the coming years, when major tourism destinations like Treasure Island's beaches have to be reauthorized in order to get federal aid.

"Continued federal funding may decline in the near term and end upon the authorization expiration dates," Squires wrote.

Typically, the federal government has paid for 60 percent of Pinellas County's beach restoration projects, with the remaining 40 percent split between the county and the state. And while most county commissioners support the idea of spending more on Pinellas' beaches through the sales tax levied on motel and hotel room rentals, there are no assurances that lawmakers in Tallahassee will increase their contribution.

On Tuesday, commissioners and Squires struggled to think of a single Florida state senator who has championed spending on beaches.

To keep the money from D.C. flowing, Pinellas recently hired Harry Glenn, the former chief of staff for the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, as its lobbyist.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat, said perhaps the first person Glenn should lobby is Young's successor, Rep. David Jolly, a Republican who has said that climate change doesn't require "a significant shift in federal policy."

"Maybe our new lobbyist, who isn't so new, could schedule some kind of an educational moment with our congressman," Long said. Climate change and rising sea levels are "a pretty big issue for us."

Pinellas officials worry about availability of federal funds for beach renourishment 03/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 10:54pm]
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