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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
John Rehill
Colulmnist for The Bradenton Times
Singer Island Gets New Sand; Florida Gets the Shaft

On April 17, last year, Governor Rick Scott signed off on a $69.9 billion State Budget for 2013’s fiscal year after vetoing an additional $142.7 million in spending. The cuts eliminated 4,400 jobs, among them many Florida Department of Environmental Protection positions. If reducing spending was the goal, and Scott said it was, then why is the FDEP paying so much money to truck thousands of tons of sand to Singer Island giving Florida’s richest more beach?
Singer Island is located in the city of Riviera Beach, just south of metropolitan Palm Beach in Palm Beach County. The island has some of the most expensive real estate in Florida. And yet the FDEP is picking up 40 percent of a tab for digging, transporting and dispersing hundreds of dump trucks of sand to put on the beaches along this wealthy enclave.
Local officials say the beaches have a problem: Almost 15 linear feet a year of some of the most expensive property in the state is being consumed by the ocean. But that is what oceans do, shape the coast in nature's way. And if anyone who wants more beach than nature provides believes it is the taxpayer's responsibility to pay for any changes, the FDEP seems to agree.
On September 12, Palm Beach County approved a project to hire 600 trucks to haul 12,000 tons (at nine dollars a ton) of sand, for what they are calling, "beach re-nourishment." I suppose that if the tax payers of Palm Beach County want to guarantee enough beach for their Hampton friends, that's one thing, but where the sand comes from and its cost is another.
Part of the funding for what are called the Coral Cove dune restoration and the Singer Island dune restoration, is from the Tourist Development Tax (a levied revenue that includes the Beach Improvement Funds). It’s all public dollars. But the tax pays for only part of restoration cost. 
The FDEP said it will contribute $400,000; Rivera Beach will kick in $200,000; and the Beach Improvement Fund will add $650,000. 
Calculating the actual cost of this beach restoration is another matter. For instance, it would have to include paying for 600 trucks making a 150 miles round trip, the toll for the wear and tear to the roads and the property value lost when mining more than 800 acres of sand. 
One would have to take into consideration the millions of gallons of water wasted, polluted and then discarded. An incalculable cost would be the destruction of hundreds of acres of foliage, the ruination of wildlife habitats essential for many of Florida's creatures. 
A round trip for 600 trucks would use more than 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel , which would produce tons of CO2, the prime greenhouse gas. Each 30-truck convoy must employ a police escort. Who's picking up the bill for that? The escorts also cause wear and tear to police cars, more fuel costs and the overtime salaries of off-duty officers. Plus, let's not forget all of the pollution that comes from the equipment that mines the sand and loads the trucks.  
Singer Island is a refuge for sea turtles that populate the state’s lower east coast. To think there will not be extreme compromise to their nests, food and safety, seems ludicrous.   
Many beaches around Florida are in need of some protective measures, but projects like the one on Singer Island should encourage an examination of just why that is -- and when we can quit pouring millions of dollars into the sea. It is not just our pocketbooks getting injured here, it is our everything. 
Erosion replacement has been an annual process at Singer Island since 2004, costing more than $6.6 million so far and scheduled to cost as much as $9 million more from the state's coffers -- not counting the untold expense to the environment. The mining of phosphate for fertilizer, limestone for cement and sand for beach restoration has caused considerable damage in Florida. 
Reefs that once lined the coast of Singer Island are buried now and cannot be replaced. Likewise, the state can never replace the life that took millions of years to evolve. Hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from the FDEP/SWFWMD operations in Gov. Scott's initial budget, and recently a round of pink slips went out to almost half of the 160 FDEP employees in the Tampa Bay area. Why does this reoccurring restoration of Singer Island get priority?
Gov. Scott says, "You have to be willing to make the hard choices." He should tell that to the now-unemployed FDEP workers while he's on his way to pick up reelection contributions from what George Bush called his 'base' at Singer Island.

John Rehill is a columnist with The Bradenton Times.

© Florida Voices

Published Monday, January 14, 2013