ANNA MARIA – Responding to concerns about eroding beaches and tourism revenue, Anna Maria commissioners are notifying other elected officials that the city opposes Port Dolphin’s pipeline plans.
Port Dolphin is a proposed floating port 28 miles from the north end of Anna Maria Island where liquefied natural gas would be converted to vapor, then shipped through a 42-mile-long pipeline to Port Manatee.
Commissioners voted Thursday night to submit the city’s objections to the pipeline portion of the project to its Congressional and Legislative delegations prior to June 2, when the U.S. Coast Guard, the first of several regulators on the project, was scheduled to begin finalizing its Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Commissioners cited concerns that the proposed pipeline would plow through Manatee County’s offshore beach renourishment sand source and be surrounded by a safety buffer zone that would force the county to find sand elsewhere at an estimated $53.2 million cost over the next 40 years.
Officials of Port Dolphin have not responded to the county’s request to change its proposed pipeline path, although Coastal Planning and Engineering, Manatee County’s engineering firm, has identified four alternate routes, said Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s Conservation Lands Management Department Director, who requested the commission’s action.
"All options are being looked at," said Harry Costello, a public relations executive representing Houston-based Port Dolphin Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Norwegian company Hoegh LNG. "They understand the community’s concerns about the available sand."
Options include relocating the pipeline farther north, installing the pipeline under the sand bed using directional drilling technology, and trenching, which requires removing the sand, installing the pipeline and replacing the sand on top of it, he said, adding that the last option is costly and unlikely.
Also unlikely, he said, is for Port Dolphin to tap into the Gulfstream Natural Gas Systems pipeline offshore, an option suggested by Coastal.
The Gulfstream pipeline already has natural gas flowing through it much of the time; its limited capacity could keep Port Dolphin from being able to access the pipeline when its tankers are ready to offload, he said, adding that Port Dolphin also may lack the ability to pump its natural gas at the required pressure into Gulfstream’s line.
The pipeline’s estimated $53.2 million cost to the county over the next four beach renourishment projects, spaced 10 years apart, represents the cost of finding equivalent quality fine, white sand - most likely farther offshore - which would require a different, more expensive type of mining technology, according to Hunsicker.
Even if Port Dolphin paid a fee to compensate for the 40-year impact, the county’s tourist tax – the primary fund for beach renourishment – would be inadequate to cover the increased cost after that, he said.
If the county is forced to seek sand elsewhere, the renourishment project area could be reduced, he said, adding that Island residents also could see their property taxes increase to cover the funding shortfall.
"The more likely scenario is that we will stop the beach renourishment program," he said.
Without a wide, white beach, Island tourism could decrease, reducing tourist tax revenues and employment in the hospitality, real estate, recreation, retail, transportation and food industries, he said.
The economic impact of not renourishing the beaches goes beyond tourism, Hunsicker said, potentially compromising public utilities, hurricane evacuation routes, sea turtle nesting and private property, especially in the three-block wide portion of Bradenton Beach.
In addition, Manatee County, the Town of Longboat Key, the State of Florida and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already have spent $35 million to find, permit and dredge the existing sand source, money that would be wasted if the pipeline is built on its projected path, Hunsicker said.
It’s also possible that no comparable sand is available, he said, because the sand in the path of the pipeline is a product of Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay currents that may not exist elsewhere.
Florida law requires that beaches be renourished with geologically identical sand.