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Nine-mile Pinellas beach renourishment project could be in jeopardy

240 signed easements still needed
Posted at 6:41 PM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 18:41:51-05

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A project to renourish nine miles of Pinellas County’s beachfront coastline is at risk of being skipped unless 240 more property owners sign a required easement.

If the project is skipped by the Army Corp of Engineers, it could mean the Sand Key area in Pinellas County won’t get any new sand for years.

The $45 million project to widen the 9-mile stretch of sand between Clearwater and Redington Beach is supposed to take place in 2024. While some areas like Clearwater and North Redington Beach have signed off on the project, many homeowners in other areas like Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and Redington Shores have not.

Coutesy Pinellas County red shows area without signed easements.png
Red area shows where signed easements are needed in Pinellas County

The Army Corp of Engineers has said if they don’t get 100% of the easements, the entire project could be at risk of being skipped until 2030, which is the next renourishment cycle.

Here’s how the easement requirements break down, according to the latest data from Pinellas County’s Coastal Management Team:

  • Clearwater: 0 needed (10 signed)
  • Belleair Beach: 0 needed (11 signed)
  • Indian Rocks Beach: 106 needed out of 180 total (74 already signed)
  • Indian Shores: 80 needed out of 159 total (79 already signed)
  • Redington Shores: 54 needed out of 75 total (21 signed)
  • North Redington Beach: 0 needed (24 signed)
  • Redington Beach: 0 needed (2 signed)

North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen says everyone in his town is disappointed, considering they already signed the required easements.

“It’s a terrible thing to depend on somebody else for your livelihood and that’s what we’re doing,” Queen said, adding that the loss of the project would have a negative impact on the economy, businesses and shoreline protection.

Pinellas County leaders say some beaches in Pinellas County naturally lose 11 feet of sand every year. That means if this project does get pushed back to 2030, there may not be much sand left.

Cookie Kennedy, the Mayor of Indian Rocks Beach, says that really concerns her.

“We have already lost a considerable amount of our beach through the last storm (Tropical Storm Eta) and we can’t wait for the next cycle in 2030,” she explained.

IRB 2017 versus after renourishment in 2018.png
This shows Indian Rocks Beach in 2017 before renourishment and 2018 after renourishment

ABC Action News spoke with a handful of property owners off-camera who told reporter Sarah Hollenbeck that they’re reluctant to sign because they worry it will give federal leaders too much leniency to build in the future, allow public access to private areas and because the agreement says it’s “in perpetuity”— which essentially means forever.

Recently, Congressman Charlie Crist agreed to send a letter to the Army Corp of Engineers requesting a meeting to talk about changing some of the wording in the easement agreements and even asking federal leaders to drop the easement requirement entirely.

“It is unacceptable that the Pinellas County Shore Protection Project be abandoned due to a sudden change in Corps policy, especially after completing multiple successful nourishment cycles prior to instatement of the easement requirement,” Crist wrote in the letter which was addressed to Rickey R.D. James, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

Pinellas County leaders worry that less sand will mean less protection for the next big storm.

“This project is built to protect the condos, the homes and infrastructure that runs along the coast,” Dr. John Bishop in Pinellas County’s Coastal Management Team elaborated.

Homeowners now have until October to sign the agreements, but Bishop urges homeowners to sign the agreements sooner.