Beach restoration will be one of the big issues in December when Florida lawmakers head into special session to deal with the havoc caused by four hurricanes.
The storms did millions of dollars in damage to beaches and the state’s tourism economy, but some environmentalists say dumping more money into restoring the beaches is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Just about every coastal area of the state had some hurricane damage this year. The feds have earmarked $127 million for storm-related beach repair, but it will also take tens of millions of state and local dollars to make Florida’s beaches whole again.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Russell Schweiss says Florida can’t afford not to restore its beaches.
“A lot of tax revenues are generated for those structures that are on the beach, whether it be property taxes or tourist taxes and we need to protect that part of our economy as well as keep our beaches beautiful for the residents of Florida to enjoy.
It may be just sand but it sure isn’t cheap. Florida lawmakers spend 30 million of your tax dollars annually for beach renourishment even in years when we don’t have four hurricanes.
But environmentalists aren’t sure it’s money well spent. The $20 million Pensacola beach restoration project just completed last year was washed away when the panhandle took a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan.
Plus the Florida Audubon Society’s Eric Draper says beach renourishment actually hurts the environment.
“Coral reefs, other things are disturbed by mining the sand from the gulf bottom. The other thing that happens is when they put the sand up on the shore, sometimes they impact sea turtle testing sites and bird nesting sites and we’re very concerned about that.”
But chances are good the state’s $50 billion tourism industry will have more lobbyists in Tallahassee next month than the sea turtles or shorebirds.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Management says he can’t put a price tag yet on DEP’s statewide post-hurricane beach and dune recovery plan.
The plan is expected to be finalized and presented to lawmakers during the likely special session in December.