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Young pushes Sand Key beach program

U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young has begun to twist the arms of top federal engineers in an effort to speed a long-delayed beach renourishment project on Sand Key.

Young has been talking in recent days with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and says he wants the agency to start the project this fiscal year. Under the current schedule, work wouldn't begin until September 1996 and would take about a year.

The problem, according to Young's letters, is the corps' permitting and design process.

"From our discussions, it does not appear that funding is the problem in moving forward with the Sand Key project," he wrote in a letter last week to Col. Terry Rice, a Jacksonville-based engineer with the corps.

Young, a Republican from Indian Rocks Beach, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He said in his letter that $2.8-million in federal funds has been allocated during the past two years for beach renourishment projects in Pinellas County.

Corps officials "haven't given him a final answer yet," said Young aide Harry Glenn. "They assured him they would get him an answer very soon."

Glenn said he expected the corps to officially respond within days.

Reaction on Sand Key was subdued.

Al Lijewski, president of the Sand Key Civic Association, said the letter was a positive development, but until the corps details how it can expedite the project, "it's just a nice-sounding letter, unfortunately."

Lijewski's work on the renourishment project has made him well-schooled in the ways of the federal and state bureaucracies.

He said the current schedule hinges on the "design memorandum" portion of the project. During this phase, the corps determines which areas of the beach will be renourished, outlines how it will keep the beach in place over the next 50 years and justifies the cost for the federal Office of Management and Budget.

"That has to be completed before anything else can occur," Lijewski said.

The only way to shorten the phase is to reduce the amount of time set aside for engineering, he said. That would mean either hiring more engineers or reassigning engineers.

Considering the time it would take to hire and train new engineers, the first option would not be viable, Lijewski said. The second option, he said, would require the politically difficult task of pulling veteran engineers off high-priority jobs in other states.

As it is, he said, the corps has reduced its planning and permitting schedule by three to six months, although "we're pushing for more."

Lijewski, meanwhile, is exploring another strategy that would buy time for condominiums threatened by the encroaching Gulf of Mexico.

He said Monday he plans to meet with county officials this week to propose removing 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the beach at county-owned Sand Key Park. The sand would be trucked to the most seriously eroded areas of Sand Key.

The project would cost $300,000 to $400,000 and provide a 100-foot buffer that would protect coastline buildings until the federal project gets underway. He also is proposing that the county be reimbursed by the federal government for the cost of the measure.