Thursday, March 09, 2017

EDITORIAL: Time the enemy of a great cooperative plan (re: replacing lost sand on North Beach)

So who set the arbitrary short deadline? Not clear to this reader. Deadlines can be modified.

St. Augustine Record
Posted March 10, 2017 12:02 am
EDITORIAL: Time the enemy of a great cooperative plan

Time is most likely going to play a cruel joke on some residents whose homes are in immediate and constant danger. Since Hurricane Matthew scoured out their North Beach foundations, they are literally hanging in midair on hope.

The County, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) came together in a extraordinary fashion in an attempt to cobble together an 11th hour plan to divert one dredging plan, attach it to another and divert the resultant sand three miles north of the pre-approved dump site.

A project has been in the works for months to remove shoaling from the Intracoastal Waterway just inside the inlet. It’s a reoccurring project the Army Corps takes on every few years. It is funded predominately by FIND, which kicked in $5 million and some federal funds that total another $3 million. This is strictly a navigational project. But, because of the proximity to Conch Island, it was planned to do double duty — clearing a potentially dangerous shoal, and pumping the shoal sand onto beach at Anastasia State Park.

But Hurricane Matthew changed things.

The players sat down and wondered out loud whether the shoaling sand could be rerouted from the state park to North Beach —where it is critically needed.

In a minor miracle of greasing the wheels of bureaucracy, that plan took shape.

In a separate issue, Matthew caused some additional navigational problems in and around the inlet, and state money was available. Since the contractor would already be on site for the original dredging, why not piggyback the second project onto the first?

To make a long story short, a grand plan has come together that would pump 240,000 cubic yards of sand along two miles of the most threatened area of North Beach.

Except, that is, for one thing. Because pipe would be laid above the mean high tide mark, it would legally be on the oceanfront homeowners’ property.

The county has been madly attempting to contact each of the 177 landowners involved to extract easements OKs for the project. As of Thursday afternoon, it had about 50 percent in hand. With a deadline of Monday, it’s unlikely the threshold will be met.

The county is working on other plans for North Beach, but these could take years to permit and set into motion — and all would require county tax dollar participation.

The immediate project would be all federal dollars — no local buy- in.

The chances of the county getting 100 percent participation in getting easement are slim to none. We wonder if the county could not attempt some type of municipal service benefit unit program, or even some type of eminent domain in order to pull the project together. Does the greater good trump private property rights?

If not, a great plan falls flat. Residents will remain indefinitely on dangerous footing. And millions of dollars worth of beach nourishment will end up where it’s needed least.

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