U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna is not happy with how the federal government is handling a pivotal Pinellas County beach renourishment project.
The Republican, along with nine other local elected officials, wrote a letter Thursday pressing officials on a controversial federal requirement that’s held up the project for months — and caused disputes between neighbors along Pinellas’ Gulf coast.
Before replenishing the eroding beaches, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asking residents to sign a perpetual easement — a document allowing public access on a portion of their land next to the beach. The Corps is requiring 100% of property owners to sign these documents for the project to go forward, which local officials say is an unrealistic goal.
“This is an ill-intentioned attempt by the Army Corps and the federal government to strip property rights from homeowners,” Luna’s letter reads.
The stakes for the project are high. Last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that almost all of Sand Key — a 14-mile stretch of Pinellas County coast from Clearwater Pass to John’s Pass — is critically eroded.
“Without renourishment, Pinellas County will be more prone to flood damages, which will negatively impact the local economy,” Luna’s letter reads. “The beach will dissipate and erode, demolishing many habitats to endangered species and threatened wildlife.”
Opposing the easements is one of the few issues with which Luna appears to agree with Democrat Charlie Crist, Luna’s predecessor in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Last year, Crist wrote his own letter to the federal government calling the easement requirement “impossible” and “arbitrary.”
In Luna’s letter, officials questioned the need for the easements given that the Army Corps didn’t require them for past renourishments. They also requested a meeting with representatives from the Army.
A spokesperson for the Army Corps wrote in an email Friday afternoon that the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works will review Luna’s letter and “respond to Rep. Luna at the appropriate time.”
The other officials who signed the letter are Florida state Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach; Indian Shores Mayor Patrick Soranno; Belleair Beach Mayor Dave Gattis; North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen; Redington Beach Mayor David Will; Redington Shores Mayor MaryBeth Henderson; St. Pete Beach Mayor Adrian Petrila; Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy and Madeira Beach Mayor Jim Rostek.
Times staff writer Lauren Peace contributed to this story.