After introducing his team of presenters, Booth talked about the history of beach renourishment, which he said started in about 1966. That’s when Congress authorized renourishment projects in Sand Key (Clearwater Beach), Treasure Island, and Long Key (St. Pete Beach).
“The Army Corps cannot do anything without authorization of the U.S. Congress,” Booth explained.
The 1986 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) mandated the Corps’ cost-sharing requirements for Shore Protection Projects (SPP).
“Roughly 65% of the cost sharing under the WRDA is federally funded,” he explained. “The remaining 35% will be funded by the county and local governments.”
Booth said the Corps perform renourishment to control beach erosion control and protect the shoreline, not for recreational benefits. Protection of infrastructure, he said, is core to these projects.
“The federal government is not going to pay for the nourishment of beaches on private shores. This is what we are talking about with regard to easements,” Booth said.
Reducing the Risk to Infrastructure
“The engineered beach that’s out there is to protect the infrastructure,” Booth said.
The Army Corps of Engineers achieves this through the Erosion Control Line (ECL) and what they call an “engineered berm.”
Congress authorized the Corps to build up this 40-foot berm, which Booth called “sacrificial sand.” Also, the Corps establishes the ECL (designated by the state) at the high water mark on the beach. Seaward of the ECL is public beach; landward of the ECL is often privately owned property.
The Role of Perpetual Easements
“You can think of it as the power company having an easement on your land to do repairs and restore power … the perpetual easement is the same for beach renourishment,” explained Booth.
Pinellas County has the responsibility of obtaining easements. The County does not have 100% compliance from Sand Key to Pass-a-Grille.
In 2018, the Corps performed Beach Erosion Control (BEC) for the last time without perpetual easements. When asked if they would perform any Beach Erosion Control without perpetual easements henceforth, the answer was no.
Public Officials Speak
Pinellas County Commissioner Brian Scott asked if the state, county, or federal government held the easements. The answer: Pinellas County holds perpetual easements.
St. Pete Beach City Manager Alex Rey asked Booth what the Corps plans to do about Pass-a-Grille Beach.
“The situation that we have here … in St. Pete Beach, in Pass-a-Grille is that we didn’t have enough of what you call ‘sacrificial sand’ on the southern portion of the beach … before [the storm],” Rey said. “So we completely lost all the remaining sand and the entire dune system … you talk about protecting infrastructure, well right now, there is absolutely no protection.”
Additionally, Rey asked about what can be done rather than hear reasons why it cannot.
“This is an urgent situation that we have now,” Rey said. “We have a sufficient segment that needs to [be saved] and it needs to [be saved] now.”
St. Pete Beach Mayor Adrian Petrila asked why the agreement to renourish changed from a few months ago.
“Will the federal government step up and fix the problem now?” he asked. The answer? No, not until the city comes into policy compliance.
Corps Project Manager Ashleigh Fountain said the Pass-a-Grille project is due for renourishment.
“We will be ready to go … we have the funds, but we have to have the land,” she said about the perpetual easements.
Beach Renourishment Plans: Questions for the Corps
Treasure Island Mayor Tyler Payne asked about this easement language: “the right of public use and access” to private property. Payne indicated this scares property owners from signing.
North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen asked if the cities went forward with their own repair, would the Corps issue any penalty. The answer was no.
After that, Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters asked about a penalty by FEMA. Booth said he could not speak for FEMA. However, his team reiterated that as long as the projects were policy compliant, the cities would not get penalized.
“If we never come into policy compliance, does that mean that the federal government will never help us with beach renourishment?” Matthew McConnell, Assistant City Attorney of St. Pete Beach, asked.
Booth indicated that was correct.
Beach Renourishment Comes Down to Language
“It is not that the property owners do not want their property renourished; it is the public access piece [that bothers them],” Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers said. “You would not be able to control persons wanting to use the beach for recreational purposes and they go through your property to get to the public beach.
“I am asking, is there not a better way to define the public access … so that you could carve out that public access,” Flowers said. “When we write policies and things, we tweak that language to make it read the way that we desire for it to read.
Then she finished with this thought about beach renourishment and public access:
“Let’s look at how we define that public access. I would love for you all to look at it. I’ll run it up to D.C. with you. Let’s look at that. Those of us who have attorneys within our municipalities can address this.”
There was applause in the room.