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Pinellas beach officials asking feds to jumpstart beach renourishment after Idalia

People are shown at the beach in Tampa on Tuesday as the city prepares for Hurricane Idalia.
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF Public Media
People are shown at the beach in Tampa on Tuesday as the city prepares for Hurricane Idalia.

The mayor of Indian Rocks Beach in Pinellas County is imploring the federal government to jumpstart beach renourishment after Hurricane Idalia washed away more of the coast. But that would take changing some of the fed's requirements for private property owners.

Many Pinellas beaches have been devastated by Hurricane Idalia.

Indian Rocks Beach officials said Friday half of the city's beach access points are closed, and it will be months before they can reopen.

Mayor Cookie Kennedy said if they don't get any more sand in renourishment projects, the next storm could potentially wipe out the entire beach.

But a dispute among private property owners and the Army Corps of Engineers has put the restoration projects on hold.

Taxpayer money would be used to replace the sand, so the Army Corps requires beachfront property owners to provide a permanent easement within the construction area. But some property owners won't sign.

"We are greatly concerned with the damage that occurred from Hurricane Idalia," Kennedy said. "We ask the Army Corps to reverse their decision in May concerning the coastal communities in Pinellas County and renourish our beaches."

Kennedy said half of the city's beach access points are closed indefinitely. And there's a four-to-six-foot drop-off where the sand has been wiped away.

"We do agree that if you're on private property, you should have easements," she said. "But over 98 percent of this county - where beach renourishment is taking place - is not on private property."

The county pays for the local share of the nourishment projects. The federal share is 65% and the local share is 35%.

What is happening is a few private property owners are stopping beach renourishment from happening because they don't want to provide access. And this could imperil not just the beach - but their own homes. The Army Corps is saying if the public pays to put a beach where there would no longer be a beach, then the public now owns part of that beach.

City Manager Gregg Mims said Indian Rocks Beach alone had $600,000 damages to beach access points and boardwalks.

He said if they don't get any more sand, the next storm can potentially wipe out the entire beach.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.