SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT
This pipe is where the sand will come out when
the current renourishment project starts in a few weeks.
BRADENTON BEACH – A large brown pipe sits on the shore, just south of the BeachHouse restaurant, and it leads into the Gulf of Mexico toward the barrow pit where sand will be obtained for the next renourishment project on Anna Maria Island. If everything goes well, the project will be begin by the end of March and if the crews are real lucky, they might be done before their income tax returns are due this year.
However, Governor Rick Scott's latest budget proposal might make renourishments a thing of the past after this project and a smaller one next year.
Both have both been fully financed, but Scott has taken any funds for future renourishments out of his budget proposal for next year.
Restaurateur Ed Chiles, who owns the Sandbar and BeachHouse restaurants, both on the beach on Anna Maria Island, was adamant in his objection to the cut.
"I'm in shock," he said. "I don't get it. If this guy is all about jobs, he's doing the wrong thing."
Chiles, whose father was the last Democratic governor of Florida, said he opposes Scott's handling of the state's budget problems.
"Our beaches are the lynchpin of the economy of Manatee County and all over the state," he said. "So if he wants to take money from the beaches and education and use it to give tax breaks to rich people, I don't think the people will stand for it."
Chiles said without the beach renourishment, his income would drop, resulting in fewer taxes to the state.
According to Manatee County Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker, this is not the first time renourishment has been cut from a governor's budget proposal.
"Governors' budgets since (Jeb) Bush have carried little or no funds for renourishment," Hunsicker said. "It will be up to the House or Senate to restore the funds."
Hunsicker said the communities affected need to stir up political support to demand that those funds be reinstated, although they also need to worry about a gubernatorial veto if the funds are replaced. He said their main concern is the possibility of letting the beaches return to pre-renourishment status.
"Not only would the beaches lose their protection against storm damage," he said, "it would also mean loss of tourists.
"Tourist dollars drive many economic engines in Florida," he added. "It is contradictory to take away support for renourishment."
Hunsicker serves on the board of directors of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Council, and he said that organization would likely gear up to voice objection to the funding cut.
Manatee County's elected officials are buzzing about the renourishment budget cut, and Manatee County Commission Chair Carol Whitmore expects to make an appearance in Tallahassee from March 30 through April 2 to try to change Scott's mind about renourishment funds.
"I met with some of his people in Washington earlier, and they told me the governor is all about jobs," Whitmore said. "They told us if we can prove that jobs would be lost without renourishment, he would be more receptive."
As Great Lakes Dock and Dredge workers put together the pipeline that will stretch seven miles from Cortez Beach to where the sand will come from north of the Island, the prospect of state funding for an Island-wide renourishment in 2015 wanes. That project would put 1.5 million cubic yards of sand along the shores from one end of the Island to the other, if the money is there. State funds would be needed to match federal funds that would pay for half of the expense.
"The governor needs to know that a study of renourishment shows that for evey dollar spent on restoring beaches, the state gains $9 in revenue," Whitmore said. "When we go to Tallahassee, we will meet with members of our state congressional delegation and the county's lobbyist."
Whitmore said that while she was in Washington earlier, they got the federal government to keep $100,000 in the budget for the engineering for the 2015 renourishment.
"We have to keep the money there from the federal side in order to keep the door open for the state funding," she said.
County Commissioner John Chappie said he hopes the governor reconsiders the budget cut.
"Beach renourishment is an economic driver," he said. "Thirty-five of the 67 counties in Florida have used state funding in the past to build up their beaches."
Chappie says renourished beaches help sustain the state's largest industry.
"Tourism is the key," he said. "Everything we market about Florida relates to the beaches."
He added that delaying any renourishment projects just makes them more expensive and he called the governor's action "very short-sighted."
"It leaves us wide open for storms," Chappie said. "There will be all kinds of repercussions in all sorts of ancillary businesses, not just on the Island. It covers so many aspects of the community."