Pinellas County is strategically exploring different scenarios that could help it secure much-needed funding for its beach restoration projects.
Kelli Levy, director of public works for Pinellas County, provided various financial pictures to the Pinellas County Tourism Development Board on Tuesday, showing how there are currently three authorized federal restoration projects — Sand Key, Treasure Island and Long Key.
For the past several years, the county has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers on the reauthorization of the Treasure Island and Long Key replenishment funding rounds, which were combined into one project. However, Sand Key has been problematic as the ACOE requires 100% of all easements for the next renewal cycle. The county is well under 50% of the number of 461 easements it needs.
“At the moment we are at a standstill. The next cycle was scheduled for 2024, but even if we receive positive news at this point, it is highly unlikely that we will move forward into 2024 given the lack of time,” Levy said.
Typically, food funding for Sand Key is split, with 60% funded by the federal government and the remaining 40% covered by the county.
Additionally, the new Long Key/Treasure Island reauthorization would be split equally between federal dollars and county dollars.
“We will pay a little more [for Treasure Island/Long Key] and we will seek state funding for this stretch,” Levy said. “We wanted to look at the stability of the fund given some of the challenges we’re facing with Sand Key, and whether we should fund this project without federal government support.”
Without federal support, the county would be in the hole by millions of dollars.
She presented three different scenario overviews:
Scenario 1: There would be no federal funds for Sand Key, but funding is intact for Treasure Island/Long Key. There would be no state subsidies beyond what is currently allowed. Through fiscal year 2031, the county would run a deficit of more than $3.5 million. Levy said that scenario is unlikely given the county’s success in competing for state grants.
Scenario 2: This scenario assumes federal cost sharing for Treasure Island/Long Key as well as state subsidies. Levy said that scenario is more likely to happen.
Scenario 3: This is the best case scenario, which assumed that the county was working with ACOE, had the easements in place, and received state grants for all projects.
“One of the things that helps the most is the incredible tourism that we’ve had…the solid revenue from tourism development taxes has definitely helped, but going forward, what happens with federal involvement and depending on what happens with state grants, really determines the image for the fund,” she said.
In 2022, the county was able to tap into about $5.6 million for beach nourishment.
However, beach nourishment funding does not include other factors such as storms causing beach damage and erosion. Damage must reach a certain threshold for a county to receive funding.
For example, when Hurricanes Irma and Ida hit the area and the county suffered significant erosion as a result, it did not meet this threshold, so the county received no funding.
She said another concern is the condition of Sunshine Beach and Sunset Beach on Treasure Island, which are badly eroded beaches that have been on a four-year beach renewal cycle; however, the new authorization pushes this cycle to six years.
Levy said many political leaders support Pinellas County’s request and support for funding for beach renovations and hopes to have a response soon.
Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski, who sits on the TDC board, said Causeway Boulevard beach should be considered a beach and given funding for food as she sees even more activity than Honeymoon Island, which is also not a federally authorized food project.