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Beachfront property owners and Army Corps at impasse over beach renourishment

Col. James Booth of the Army Corps of Engineers addresses a standing-room-only crowd at Indian Shores Town Hall
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media
Col. James Booth of the Army Corps of Engineers addresses a standing-room-only crowd at Indian Shores Town Hall

Scores of beachfront property owners flooded into a town hall Friday on beach renourishment hosted by the Army Corps of Engineers in Indian Shores. But they didn't hear anything different from what they've been told for several years.

At issue is the Army Corps' recent decision to require every beachfront property owner to sign over an easement for access for any renourishment projects. The need has become critical for some beaches that were severely eroded by Hurricane Idalia.

Katrena "Kat" Hale owns the Sand-Glo Villas hotel, across Gulf Boulevard from where the town hall was being held in Indian Shores. She wants her beach renourished but isn't willing to go as far as the federal government wants.

"My beef is with perpetuity," she said. "If they want to do this right now, I'm fine with that. You want me to sign away rights to my property that you can come out whenever you want, however you want, forever? I have a problem with that."

"This building has held its own since 1932," she said of her vintage hotel. "I'm pretty sure it's going to hang tough some more."

woman standing on beach
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media
Katrena "Kat" Hale in front of her beachfront property at Indian Shores that was eroded by Hurricane Idalia

Hale believes something has to give between the landowners and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"I think the solution will come from the government officials working with the Corps of Engineers and possibly rewriting, or coming with an alternate solution," she said.

But Col. James Booth, district commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, says they don't plan to waver from requiring permanent easements. He says since public tax dollars would be used for the projects, the public should have access to any renourished beach.

"The federal interest in protecting the infrastructure behind it, it does come with a requirement by law that says that I can't - as a federal agency - spend money to protect private property," Booth said. "And that's where we go to requiring these perpetual easements, so that we can come in and do the restoration on these projects after the storms have the impacts that we know they have on them."

And Booth said none of the projects proposed for Pinellas can go through without all the property owners agreeing to an easement. He said this is not impossible - it's been done recently for renourishment projects in Brevard and Flagler counties.

"Right now, if the real estate interests and the easement issue is not resolved, we will not move forward with either of the three what we call segments - Sand Key, Treasure Island or Long Key," he said.

Booth said that requirement won't likely change.

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