DEP to hear comment about coastal line Tuesday
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001
CLEARWATER -- If you own waterfront property along the Pinellas coast, Tuesday could be your last chance to speak up about a state restriction that would add a new layer of rules for building on the beach.
The new Coastal Construction Control Line, already delayed for months by local beach officials who picked apart the science used by the Department of Environmental Protection, could be delayed a bit more. The state agency hoped to put the line in place Feb. 28, but a final decision now could come as late as this summer, said Gene Chalecki, program administrator of the DEP's Office of Beaches and Coastal Systems.
DEP will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Clearwater City Hall, despite objections from local beach officials that the time is too early and the location too far north. To compromise, the DEP will reconvene the hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday and will not adjourn until 6:30 p.m.
"What we're trying to do is give the people who work until 5 a chance to get to the hearing and ask some questions," said newly elected state Rep. John Carassas, R-Clearwater, who urged DEP Secretary David Struhs to make those changes in the meeting time.
The current control line, first put in place for Pinellas in 1981, cuts down the beaches on the west side of nearly every waterfront building on the barrier islands and affects few existing structures.
The revised line, however, bisects hotels, restaurants, single-family homes and condominiums west of Gulf Boulevard between Clearwater and St. Pete Beach, even veering east of the main thoroughfare at some points. Any property owner seeking to build or re-build west of the line must seek special state building permits and conform to tighter rules.
The new line could throw into non-compliance as much as $2.8-billion in property.
Twenty years ago, the Legislature ordered the DEP to revise the control lines set up in coastal counties. Pinellas is the 24th -- and very last -- county to be completed. DEP officials have said that they saved Pinellas for last partly because they expected a fight.
A fight, indeed. Resistance sprang up even before the DEP released its first study a year ago, proposing a line that frustrated elected officials in the beach cities and towns.
Chief among those officials' concerns:
DEP says its line indicates where a 3-foot wave would hit the beach in Pinellas County's worst storm in a century. But to devise the line, the agency included data from storms more severe than any Pinellas city has seen, leading beach officials to complain that the department is protecting against a storm Pinellas might never experience.
Based on the beach officials' objections, DEP re-examined its proposed line late last year and came up with a new line, which falls an average of 6 feet closer to the gulf than the first proposal.
Beach officials, especially a technical advisory committee set up by the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, say the state gave them little time to review hundreds of pieces of technical data, released in late December, that established the new line.
For example, the state provided a map showing the new line based on its second study, but the map did not indicate where the first proposed line was. For local officials to see how the line had changed, they had to plot the precise location of the previous line using complex coordinates provided by DEP.
Beach officials also complain that they still are unsure exactly what the new line would mean for Pinellas.
For example, in Belleair Shore, where million-dollar homes are armored against the elements by seawalls, Mayor John Robertson continually warns that the DEP's new control line could prevent the community from rebuilding its seawalls if they were destroyed in a storm.
Carassas said he used some of his time last week with Gov. Jeb Bush, who spoke with each of the freshman legislators, to talk about his concerns with the Pinellas control line. Bush put him in contact with Struhs and Kirby Green, the DEP deputy secretary who will act as hearing officer at Tuesday's public meeting.
DEP maintains that the line has been more palatable than expected in each of the counties where it already has taken effect. But Carassas and others argue that special consideration should be given to Pinellas because the coast here is fully developed.
"We are in a unique situation because we are the most densely populated county," Carassas said.
DEP officials are not yet certain when they will make a final decision on the line, but written comments will be accepted after Tuesday. The agency always has suggested, however, that only scientifically based objections to its line can sway its judgment.
"The record will be kept open, so that if anyone wants to submit additional testimony, they can," Chalecki said.
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