Although the state spent more this year on beach widening than anytime in a decade, beach advocates say it’s not enough.
They’re asking the state to designate a specific pot of money that can be counted on each year to support local projects that replenish lost sand along the coast.
What’s at stake is more than just offering residents a nice spot to relax and catch rays: The beaches are South Florida’s biggest tourist lure; they contribute to higher property values; and they protect coastal development.
Legislation filed by state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who heads the Senate appropriations committee, would increase the state’s minimum annual contribution to $50 million, the amount allocated this year. In previous years, the base had been $30 million and sunk to as little as $15 million in 2010 after the Great Recession.
Latvala said his bill, which died this year but has been refiled, would provide a long-term solution to beach renourishment.
“Right now, beach renourishment is an annual grab bag based on who is in leadership in each house and which beaches they decide to renourish,” said Latvala, who is running for governor. “This would put it on more of an organized basis, like our road program.”
The bill gives preference to beaches that have high tourism value, which could mean more money for Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. The money for the projects would come from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which was approved by voters in 2014. The fund, which receives one-third of real estate stamp taxes, was established to acquire and protect wildlife habitat, water resources and park land.
This year, the state also approved a separate $13 million to clean up coastal storm damage caused primarily in north Florida by Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine.
Restoration projects can include a combination of local, state and federal funding. In Palm Beach County, only four of about a dozen beach projects receive federal dollars, said Leanne Welch, former manager of the county’s renourishment programs. The rest are more dependent on state money to offset the local costs, with the state usually reimbursing the cities and counties for up to half of their eligible costs after work is completed. A delay in getting reimbursements can slow down when the next renourishment project can begin.
“Anytime that you’re waiting for that reimbursement, it affects your ability to do your next project, because the money’s just not there,” said Welch, who is manager of the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton and former chairwoman of the Florida Shores and Beaches Preservation Association.
Welch said there is a backlog of projects requesting funding from the state, which she said Latvala’s bill could help reduce.
“Getting state funding for beaches every year has been a struggle,” Welch said. “It seems like there’s always a more pressing need.”
This year’s funding had good news for Broward County, which received $13.9 million for a $25.6 million sand bypass project at the Port Everglades Inlet, which will help replenish beaches south of the port. The town of Palm Beach received the second-largest award, $6.5 million for its $17 million mid-town beach restoration project.
Both projects had sought funding a year earlier, when only $32.6 million was available from the state. Only 18 of 51 projects requesting money last year received awards.
Restoration projects continually need new money. Broward County completed a major $55.6 million renourishment program this year, a 4.9-mile stretch from Pompano Beach to central Fort Lauderdale beach that was almost 20 years in the making. It will seek additional state money for a new project south of Port Everglades to the Miami-Dade County line that was last restored more than 10 years ago.
“Our beaches are like roads. Once you have them constructed, there’s always going to be ongoing maintenance,” said Nicole Sharp, Broward County’s natural resources administrator.
Virtually all of the beaches in the tri-county area are considered critically eroded, making them eligible for state dollars. But they are competing with beaches across the state for those dollars.
Since 1998, the length of beaches considered critically eroded has gone from 317 miles to 411 miles. Only 227 miles of those eroding beaches have been part of sand restoration projects. In South Florida, Palm Beach has 33.6 miles of critically eroded beaches, Broward 21.3 miles and Miami-Dade 17 miles.
“The beaches need to be sustained on a permanent basis,” said Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, who co-sponsored the House version of Latvala’s bill this year.