1. Opinion

Column: Pinellas beach renourishment is ready to begin, but homeowners must sign easements first

Published May 30, 2017

Pinellas County received good news last week from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — almost $30 million in federal funding is now available to renourish up to 10.5 miles of our beaches. Beach renourishment is critical to protecting our coastline and our economy.

We have some of the best beaches in the world, visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, which provide unrivaled recreational opportunities for everyone and important natural habitat and nesting grounds for shorebirds, sea turtles and other wildlife.

Successfully protecting our beaches through this renourishment project depends on more than just funding. It also depends on the cooperation of property owners along all three sections of the project (Sand Key, Treasure Island and Long Key/St. Pete Beach). Pinellas County sent letters in January to owners of beachfront property along Sand Key where sand will be placed on private land. The letters request that owners sign easements to allow the nourishment activities and the beach in front of their properties to remain open to the public in perpetuity, an Army Corps legal requirement for the project to move forward.

Renourishment of our beaches is scheduled to begin this fall, but planning, engineering and design work must be done quickly in order to put the project out to bid for construction, award the contract, and complete the scheduled work on time. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has asked Pinellas County to have all easements signed and in place by June 2 — that's this Friday — to meet this timeline.

Without the signed easements, the corps may be forced to leave segments of the beach project uncompleted. With a number of easements still outstanding, engineers estimate that more than 1.5 miles of the project will be bypassed. These sections of the beach could threaten the integrity of the project and leave those areas at greater risk of further erosion and personal property damage in the event of a severe storm or hurricane event. That's bad for homeowners, bad for tourism and bad for sea turtles and other wildlife that call the beach home.

We write to assure property owners that these easements don't allow the Army Corps or anyone else to access your home. They simply allow work to proceed along the beach where new sand is needed. If you have questions, John Bishop, Pinellas County's coastal management coordinator will be happy to take your call at 727-464-8766 and walk you through the details of the easement.

The Pinellas County shore protection project is a national model for cooperation among all levels of government and property owners. To achieve the best possible design and construction that will deliver maximum storm protection, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat, we need everyone's help. Thank you to those who have already signed the easements. And if you have not already done so, please return your signed easements today.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is a Democrat representing District 13, and Janet C. Long chairs the Pinellas County Commission.