State Politics

Budget cuts put beaches in peril

MANATEE — A shrinking state budget could adversely affect renourishment plans for beaches on Anna Maria Island.

It’s not the next round of renourishment in early 2010 that’s so worrisome to Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Natural Resources Department for Manatee County. An estimated $8-9 million of state and county funds are already allocated to pay for renourishment of the sand along a nine-tenths of a mile stretch on Coquina Beach.

What’s more worrisome are the projects set for 2013.

Hunsicker estimates that only about a quarter of the federal and state money needed for future projects beyond 2011 have been allocated.

Other renourishment projects, originally set for 2011, which were pushed back to 2013 due to the complexities of securing federal and state permits, include 5.6 miles of beach along Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Cortez Beach, and 1.1 miles of beach on the north end of Anna Maria Island.

“We have benefited greatly from our federal and state partners for beach renourishment,” Hunsicker said Thursday. “We don’t necessarily have the choice to scale back.”

The county collects its beach renourishment money from tourist development taxes. But that typically pays for only about half the cost of renourishment.

If beaches aren’t periodically renourished with white, clean recreational sand, they can be lost to tidal action, and other beachfront property could be threatened as well.

For many of the beaches now scheduled for renourishment in 2013, the last time some of them had fresh sand was in 1992-93, or in 2002.

David Teitelbaum, a member of the Tourist Development Council and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, said beaches are Manatee’s most valuable tourism asset.

“Beach renourishment is extremely important. I think more needs to be done,” Teitelbaum said. “It comes down to what do you do about your most valuable source of revenue? I’m so happy they stopped this whole idea of drilling for oil three miles offshore. What were people thinking?”

Members of the Manatee County legislative delegation were vague about prospects for beach renourishment funding.

“It’s a negotiating item between the House and the Senate,” Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said Thursday.

With the legislature already facing a weeklong special session. Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, said, “everything is up in the air.”

Joan Dickinson, an Anna Maria resident whose home is on the bay side of the island, said she has been concerned by erosion problems for about eight years.

“The whole north end of the island has been affected by erosion. It’s been designated as a critically eroded area,” Dickinson said.

She said she would be interested in seeing some emergency measures enacted to stem the erosion.

“Charlie Hunsicker has our best interests at heart,” she said.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be reached at 708-7916. Herald Staff Writer Grace Gagliano contributed to this report.