Condo owner upset about beach restoration project

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Newspapers
By Suzette Porter

Published July 26, 2017


Lack of signed easements by the neighbors means 50 Gulfside Condominiums in Indian Rocks Beach won’t be getting any new sand during an upcoming beach restoration project.

Condo owner Rick Smith appealed to Pinellas County commissioners July 18, asking them for help to get 50 Gulfside’s section of beach nourished. He said the condominium’s beachfront was hard hit during last year’s tropical storms and all the dunes are gone. A bridge on the property no longer connects to the beach. The loss of sand is worrisome, especially due to the property’s proximity to Central Avenue and the Intracoastal Waterway. He’s concerned that without replacement of the missing sand, the area will become “the new John’s Pass.”

John’s Pass in Madeira Beach was created during the Great Gale of 1848, which forever changed the shoreline.

Commission Chair Janet Long told Smith that the problems surrounding the $32 million Sand Key Nourishment Project was a “very big issue for the county” due to people refusing to sign easement agreements required by the Army Corps of Engineers. She said staff had gone door-to-door trying to get people to sign.

“They’ve been misinformed,” Smith said. “This (easement agreement) is just to get out there and level the sand.”

“They don’t want people to walk on their property,” Long said.

“They can’t stop that,” Smith replied.

County Administrator Mark Woodard explained that the issue with nourishing the beach at 50 Gulfside Condominiums was due to the neighbors to the north and south not making the easement available despite staff’s efforts to communicate with them.

He said the Army Corps needed 1,500 linear feet to mobile equipment to do the job. The condominiums property doesn’t meet that threshold.

Smith is upset that his property is “being penalized because of the few that don’t want to sign.”

“They’ll be the first to cry wolf when a hurricane plows through,” he said.

Long said county staff had talked to the property owners who won’t sign, but they are concerned that the federal government will take their land.

Environmental Management Division Director Kelli Levy said it was too late to do anything to help Smith because the easements agreements giving the Army Corps permission to be on beachfront property were due in June. The project is already in the bid process, she said.

She confirmed that there were no easements included north or south of 50 Gulfside Condominiums.

She said the Army Corps did have the ability to do what she called “field amendments” but the area Smith wants help for is too big to qualify for that process.

“It’s too late to do anything,” she said, adding that the problem wasn’t just for the project slated to begin this fall, but for future projects.

She said the county had needed at minimum 120 easements to do the Sand Key project, but needs 400 more to do future projects.

“This is very important,” Levy said. “I feel for the condo owners who want to participate, but easements are voluntary.”

She said she had personally talked to the property owners that refused to sign and had even managed to get the Army Corps to modify the language of the agreement, which she pointed out was not an easy task.

“But we couldn’t get there,” she said.

She said 1,500 to 1,600 linear feet is needed to stage equipment. The condo property only has 800 feet.

But she agreed with Smith about the danger to the area without new sand.

“One storm, one good event that changes the way the beach looks today between now and December and we’ll be knocking on doors,” she said.

She added that just adding sand to the beachfront at the condo wouldn’t have much long-term benefit, as it would wash away. She did say that some of the sand going down north of the property could drift south providing some benefit.

Woodard said this was the first time in history that the Army Corps had required easements. Renourishment projects take place about every five to seven years.

“As property owners see their beaches reduced, maybe they’ll be more inclined to sign (in the future),” he said.