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Property access battle slows down beach renourishment in Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY – The dunes and beaches in Pinellas County have taken a beating during the last few storms, but bringing back all the missing sand has turned into a property access battle.

It is very expensive to put new sand on beaches.

“Tens of millions of dollars or even more and historically, our local governments, like Pinellas County, have saved up money to do that work, but also get a cost share from the federal government, usually 50% or more,” Representative Lindsay Cross said.

The federal partner that has fronted that cost has been the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Cross is one of the people fighting for Congress to have the Corps change its policy.

“Where they’re now requiring that 100% of the people that live within this designated strip of beach that’s going to be renourished, that they sign over a perpetual — that means forever and ever — easement to the federal government, to provide access to their property,” she said.

She said in the past, local partners, like Pinellas County, have had the ability to front some of the cost themselves, and get short easements from property owners to make the project work.

She said the opportunity for change is coming up this year.

“The Water Resource Development Act, where Congress has the ability to tell the Army Corps of Engineers to change this policy and go back to the way it used to be, where the federal government was helping to cooperate with these local partners to get these projects done,” Cross said.