Cindy was a reminder.




Cindy was a reminder.

No matter the size, no matter how far away it may or may not seem, a tropical storm system has a path, and designs, all its own.

And with a long, and potentially busy, storm season ahead, the peninsula beaches could be in for a trying summer.

Particularly, with a beach restoration project still months away, even the most optimistic estimates providing questons whether the project will even begin in 2017.

And, two years ago, 2017 was seen by proponents of beach restoration as something of a tipping point.

This was the year, the county’s coastal engineer, Michael Dombrowski, told the Board of County Commissioners in 2015 that would likely see the first structures along the peninsula undermined if additional sand was not on the beach.

Cindy, which became a Tropical Storm the day it made landfall last week, proved the point.

With Cindy bringing 6-8 foot seas and heavy rains, Cape Shoals, a development along St. Joseph Peninsula, became the first victim of the disappearing shoreline, condemned by the county after Cindy completed the sand excavation below its foundation.

The push to secure local taxpayer contribution to a restoration project two years ago was, in fact, to meet Dombrowski’s timeline, a deadline, Dr. Pat Hardman of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County said repeatedly.

The goal, the start of the project in the spring.

But the boulder, as it has frustratingly been for county officials when it comes to the county beaches, has been the federal government.

After lining up the dollars, in the form of a state grant, three Municipal Services Taxing Units established among South Gulf property owners, county bed taxes and the county’s first-year direct RESTORE Act allocation, spring remained a realistic goal for the start of the project.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit has been in hand for months, said Warren Yeager, executive director of the county Economic Development Coalition.

But the permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remains to be secured, even though the process began in March 2016, Yeager said.

At that time, the work to craft a biological opinion necessary to process the permit was begun, Yeager said.

But the biological opinion from U.S. Fish and Wildlife was not received by the Corps until recently.

“They are reviewing it now,” Yeager said. “We hope that in a matter of weeks we will receive the Corps permit.”

As Gulf County as seen before, though, whether beaches or port, the Corps operates on its own timeline and how long the wait will be is unknowable.

“Nobody thinks it won’be approved, but everybody needs to earn their keep,” Hardman said in frustration.

Yeager said the Corps was aware of the pressing nature of the erosion along St. Joseph Peninsula.

“The money is in place, the money is waiting on the permits,” Yeager said.

With permits in hand, the project would be put out for bid, which would take at least another 30 days.

Yeager noted that few companies are even in the field to bid and any company securing the contract would need time, 60-90 days at the least, to mobilize.

So, even if the federal permit is approved in July, it is likely the earliest the project could start is early November.

“Our best-case scenario is November,” Yeager said.

Which happens to be the final month of hurricane season.

The project, which would not include the beaches of the two state parks along the coast, would place sand along roughly 5.8 miles of beach, more in some “hot spots” than others.

“All areas will get some sand, but the overall goal is a uniform beach,” Yeager said.

DEP ‘reneged’

The hope of a larger, and more consequential, project, to create a sub-surface structure or structures just offshore near the Stump Hole area of St. Joseph Peninsula that would alter currents and the rate of erosion, is off the board.

State Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) told a meeting of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County, that a deal brokered for state funding of the project was “reneged” upon by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Beshears had hoped to have the project included in the recently-approved state budget, but the $2 million pledged by FDEP and the Florida Department of Transportation evaporated after FDEP’s about-face, he said.

“We are back to square one,” Beshears said.

The $2 million is to be put into additional research on the feasibility of a bridge linking the peninsula along State 30E, Beshears said.

Property values

As if it needed a finer point, Property Appraiser Mitch Burke provided one during the CCA meeting; the value South Gulf to the entire county.

Though his numbers will not be finalized until later this week, Burke said county property values would likely be climbing by about 9.3 percent this year.

For Gulf District Schools, for which property value is calculated differently, the increase figures to come in around 14 percent.

“Sales are moving up,” Burke said, noting nearly $40 million in new construction year-over-year. “We know where the most activity is taking place.”

That would be South Gulf, which, as a region of the county, saw a 13 percent increase in property values.

Even though just 18 percent of the county’s total land parcels are in South Gulf County, the area provided 41 percent of the county’s taxable property value over the past year, Burke said.