Replacing beaches could cost $20 million
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County officials know where Tropical Storm Debby deposited the sand stripped from local beaches. The eroded material wound up piled not far offshore, where it might provide some protection from the next storm. They also know how much it will cost to replace the sand: $15 million to $20 million. What they don't know is whether the state and federal governments will fund beach renourishment as they have in the past. Renourishment projects - bringing in sand dredged from offshore and spreading it on Pinellas beaches, where the sand eventually is pulled back out to sea - has long been controversial.In the past, the federal government has chipped in 60 percent and the state and county governments 20 percent each for certain beach re-nourishment projects in Pinellas County, said Andy Squires, Pinellas County's coastal manager. But national political fallout in recent years that has eliminated earmarks to special projects in federal budgets has changed the unwritten funding rules that stretch from Washington to Pinellas County. "Beach renourishment does cost a lot," Squires said. "But it can be the most cost-effective option." Officials estimate restoring the beaches at Sand Key, Treasure Island and Long Key and several others that traditionally receive federal renourishment funding would cost $15 million to $20 million. It would cost another $866,000 to help restore beaches that don't normally receive federal funding. Those beaches would include Fort De Soto Park and Mullet Key. Beaches are a mainstay of the county's tourism industry, which drew $3.4 billion in visitor spending in 2011. Debby's arrival in late June probably hurt tourism numbers and bed tax revenue, said Pinellas tourism director D.T. Minich, but officials Wednesday said the rest of the summer should remain robust for business. "I will take three days of a tropical storm compared with one day of a hurricane," said Tourist Development council board member Phil Henderson Jr., who owns Starlite Cruises.
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