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As Pinellas hears another no on beach-erosion fix, what’s next?

The Army Corps of Engineers denied a waiver that would’ve let the already delayed renourishment project move forward, leaving officials looking at other options.

The Army Corps of Engineers has denied a waiver that would have let a massive, already-behind-schedule beach renourishment project move forward in Pinellas County.

The thumbs-down from the Corps’ headquarters signals that it’s digging its heels in amid a years-long standoff with the county over the replenishment of sand on a critically eroded stretch of coastline. It may also mark a turning point, with county officials turning their eyes toward other potential sources of money so they can do the project without the Corps.

The pumping of tons of sand onto an 8½-mile stretch of Sand Key, from North Redington Beach in the south to north of Belleair Beach, is crucial to maintaining the shoreline as a tourism draw, habitat for endangered species and natural storm buffer, local leaders say.

The waiver would have freed Pinellas of its main source of conflict with the Corps: a rule that requires beachfront property owners to grant a perpetual easement, creating public access on part of their land next to the beach, in order for the Corps to do the work.

The denial from the Corps’ headquarters came despite approval from lower ranks of the Corps. Its Jacksonville district prepared the waiver on the county’s behalf last August, and its South Atlantic Division, in Atlanta, approved it weeks later.

The memo stating the waiver would be denied was undated. Kelli Levy, Pinellas County’s public works director, said the county was told weeks ago the waiver would be denied but had to request something in writing several times before receiving the memo Thursday night.