Commissioner-Charles-Justice-web
Charles Justice
Pinellas County Commission Chairman

There’s no denying that Pinellas County boasts some of the best beaches in the country. Our beaches span more than 35 miles, but are in constant threat of disappearing. Hurricanes such as Hermine, Irma and Michael scrape our coastline and wipe away tourist-attracting sand.

Fortunately, Pinellas County’s Coastal Management division is dedicated to combating beach erosion through the proven method of beach nourishment. However, they can’t do it alone. This month, I want to draw your attention to our coastal communities, and how you can help keep our beaches beautiful.

If you’ve been to Sand Key lately, you may have seen the dump trucks and construction workers improving our coastline. The 2018 Sand Key nourishment project added more than 1.3 million cubic yards of sand.

For any future beach nourishment project, the Army Corps of Engineers requires perpetual storm damage reduction easements from all beach property owners. An easement is a legal document that allows for nourishment construction and ensures affected areas remain open to the public. In the coming months, Pinellas County will send almost 400 easements by mail to beach property owners and homeowners associations.

The last time the county requested easements for beach nourishment, more than 21 miles of our beaches were considered critically eroded. Only 57 percent of property owners signed easements. Many sections of the beach, therefore, were skipped and did not receive critical nourishment. These areas saw severe impacts from Hurricane Michael. Gaps in nourishment can also accelerate the rate of erosion. Uninterrupted stretches of nourishment often need less sand in the future, and fare better after storms.

After nourishment, some property owners can see an added 100 feet of beach width, but they won’t see new buildings or bathrooms. Easements do not allow for the construction of permanent structures or dunes.

One of the Board of County Commissioners’ missions is to practice superior environmental stewardship through preserving and managing environmental lands. Beach width created by nourishment is important to our wildlife habitat. Shore birds, sand crabs and sea turtles rely on our beaches to thrive.

Signing a perpetual easement is a commitment to our community. Think of the impacts beaches have on the local economy. Pinellas County saw 4.8 million visitors from January to March 2018. Tourism generated $76 million in total tax revenue. Many of our businesses rely on the beaches where the tourism industry accounts for more than 100,000 jobs.

Without signed easements the Army Corps of Engineers could deny federal funding of future beach nourishment projects. Currently, nourishment funding is shared three ways: 20 percent from the county (Tourist Development Tax), 20 percent from the state (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) and 60 percent from federal (Army Corps of Engineers).

We are committed to protecting our shoreline, homes and businesses. Our beaches are the first line of defense against storm surge, and beach nourishment is the proven method to combat erosion.

I hope you have a better understanding of beach nourishment and its impact on our community. As always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at cjustice@pinellascounty.org