Southwest Florida Beaches Might get a Boost
Feb. 5, 2019
Florida Sen. Debbie Mayfield has introduced a bill that would overhaul how state funding for beach preservation projects is decided.
Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, said under her coastal management bill, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s “criteria for ranking beach and inlet sand management projects will be refined to better capture the economic importance of healthy beaches to tourism, storm damage reduction and resource protection.”
Debbie Flack, president of the Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association, which supports the bill, said Mayfield’s proposal provides a “much more refined” set of criteria for the state’s allocation of money for beach and inlet restoration projects.
That funding totaled $50 million in both the state’s fiscal 2017-18, and the current fiscal 2018-19, which ends June 30.
The bill could affect various beach renourishment projects on the Southwest coast, including its barrier island shorelines.
Captiva uses a rolling schedule, with work done every decade or so to avoid conditions deteriorating into a “dire emergency state,” said Carolyn Weaver of the Captiva Erosion Prevention District. Each project’s funds come from a variety of sources, including Lee County, the state Department of Environmental Protection and a special tax assessment.
The island’s last renourishment was in 2013 and cost about $30 million. For the next one, scheduled for 2020 or 2021, “We are putting out the bond referendum asking for no higher than $18 million (from taxpayers),” she said, “so we are hoping for at least $12 million from the government.”
That’s why revamping funding criteria is a good idea, said the district’s chair, Mike Mullins.
“Healthy beaches are essential to the economy of the islands of Lee County. Taking a fresh look at funding makes sense as islands like Captiva depend heavily on local property owners,” he said. “A more sophisticated framework will hopefully be more beneficial to the health of the beaches in the future, through generating more funding from the state.”
“I think there is a recognition that beaches are Florida’s brand,” and it is important for adequate and appropriate state funding for beach projects, said Flack, whose organization includes representatives of coastal cities and counties.
Sebastian Inlet District Administrator Martin Smithson said Mayfield’s bill “is a very positive step in refining the approach to rank Florida’s valuable beaches needing state funding assistance. I know there is a need to revamp it.”
In explaining her reason to push the legislation, Senate Bill 446, Mayfield noted that Florida has more than 800 miles of sandy coastline.
“Our beaches are one of Florida’s most valuable resources, serving as critical habitat for species of plants and animals, attracting visitors and new residents to the state, as well as providing a line of defense during major storm events,” Mayfield said.
Florida Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, who is the sponsor of the House companion bill, House Bill 325, said money spent on beach renourishment projects has a strong return on investment, in terms of tourism and other economic benefits.
“I think this is a very meaningful legislation that will help one of the largest drivers of Florida’s economy,” LaMarca said, in discussing its potential positive impact on tourism.
Mayfield said the bill “revises the criteria used by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to prioritize coastal restoration projects based on need and importance.”
“Criteria for ranking beach and inlet sand management projects will be refined to better capture the economic importance of healthy beaches to tourism, storm damage reduction and resource protection,” Mayfield said. “There is also criteria added to rank projects based on federal and local matching funds, recreational benefits, project significance, project mobility, readiness to proceed, dune enhancement, habitat protection and strategies to conserve sand resources.”
Flack said Mayfield’s bill would provide “a fairly sophisticated framework” for beach project funding.
Mayfield said the proposal “also increases transparency and accountability from the Department of Environmental Protection by raising their project reporting requirements.”
The bill creates a three-year work plan “so that Florida can maximize federal dollars and local project sponsors can anticipate required funding needs, final design and secure permits so projects can proceed to timely construction,” Mayfield said.
Flack said similar legislation has been approved the last two years in the Florida Senate, but did not come up for a vote in the Florida House. In 2018, the legislation was approved in the Senate by a 36-0 vote.
Flack said the legislation has had the support of the tourism and real estate industries.