We have private properties literally falling into the Gulf here. Our first impulse is to help them out — they are our neighbors, after all. Plus, beachfront properties are a huge part of our tax base. But is this sustainable? Is the cost to replace constantly shifting sand greater than the revenue? Can the rest of us taxpayers continue to carry beachfront properties’ perpetual need for more sand?
What about the federal government underwriting our barrier island properties? President Reagan started the feds underwriting coastal property insurance. Now that program is in the red by billions of dollars, with no guarantee it will improve. Can we raise costs to homeowners and to other taxpayers? By how much?
I read that Vero Beach just spent $7 million to restore 3.1 miles of sand, only to have it washed away two weeks later (http://bit.ly/39VUzuB). We are rebuilding Manasota Key beaches now, but how long will it last? The fact is one storm can wipe out all this effort.
I’m not saying that we should let the Gulf have those homes. I’m asking if you think it’s a good investment in the long term. It’s a problem to which I don’t have answers, but I share our beachfront neighbors’ plight.
What about expanding numbers of federally insured and demands on flood insurance? As of 2018, Florida had 1.76 million policies, both commercial and residential. According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were just 1,000 private insurance policies in 2015; as of September 2019, there were 83,000. Federal coverage is limited to $250,000 per home plus $100,000 for contents. Private insurance can cover more. Florida had 6,239 with private supplemental insurance in September 2019.
Flagler County on Florida’s east coast is in the same fix as Sarasota County, struggling to get everyone signed up and on board. Everyone wants to save both public and private beaches, but nobody wants to carry the costs. How does government force private property owners to pay for beach renourishment? Is there a fair way to handle this?
Consider that if it’s not mandatory, some property owners will not sign onto the program. But if owners on both sides pay up for renourishment, the middle owner who opts out will pay much less but still benefit with new dredged sand as natural shifting pushes it onto their property. How do we deal with this? It’s exactly what Sarasota is working with now.
Don’t forget we have a global shortage of sand. Worldwide, sand is a finite resource and in limited supply. Most of it is used for concrete. Pumping sand from the Gulf has both benefits (cheaper and easier to source) and problems (silty and leads to murky waters). Other Florida coastal communities are trucking in sand. Which is the right way? Many apparent answers just invite more questions.
What are effects of new sand on existing ecosystems? There are lots of smaller particles of sand and silt contained in dredged sand. Even minor wave action stirring up Gulf waters by our beaches and passes will suspend this sediment, giving the water a milky look. How does this affect other sea life and the quality of experience for beach visitors? Is silt covering seagrasses near our Gulf passes creating more challenges?
What about armoring shorelines with physical barriers? Other states have tried jetties and riprap structures. They can protect the buildings but do not stop shifting sands, and often lead to shorelines without beaches. Look at problems along New Jersey’s coast. Which is more important? How can anyone make these decisions?
Buyouts have been discussed. Why should taxpayers bail out folks who bought on shifting sands? Our governments allowed construction where it never should have happened. Old time locals told everyone it was never a question of if there would be catastrophes, only when! They laughed at developers building on shifting beaches.
The bottom line is it was inevitable we would end up where we are today. Florida’s Gulf islands were never a stable foundation for homes and condos. It all happened because it was big money for developers and local governments wanted the increased property tax incomes.
And then there is climate change and sea level rise. How do they get factored into decisions? I’m out of things to ask, but this isn’t the end of the questions. It’s a problem, and it will continue to be big trouble for Southwest Florida’s future. The good news is local waters are beautiful and fishing is improving every day, so let’s go fishin’ now.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.