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Beaches celebrate rebuilding program

A new state program provides renourishment funds for the state's beaches. A local legislator is credited with spearheading the effort.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


TREASURE ISLAND -- After 22 years in the state House of Representatives, Rep. Dennis Jones of Seminole is leaving office with a nickname he takes pride in.

"I finally get to be "The Sandman,' " Jones said Tuesday along the Treasure Island shore, where Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law a bill that further protects Florida's beach sand from erosion.

The new law sets standards for how $30-million in beach renourishment dollars will be distributed among Florida's coastal communities. It's a law Jones has been working toward since his election to the House in 1978, though the big breakthrough came two years ago when the Legislature agreed to set aside the money each year.

"This will allow us to give priority to those projects that are needed," Bush said after signing the bill.

The law is part of Bush's push to force legislators' local pet projects through a tougher review process. Rather than allowing projects such as local sewer line construction or beach renourishment projects to pop up for review during the legislative session, Bush favors programs that allow state agencies to examine and prioritize such plans.

"It brings technology and science to something that will sustain our beaches," Bush told the small crowd of Pinellas beach mayors, public officials and children from the Treasure Island Summer Program, who gathered Tuesday on the beach in Treasure Island.

The new law establishes criteria for reviewing and ranking beach renourishment projects, a function that likely will be handled by the state Department of Environmental Protection. It also specifically lists projects that are not eligible for renourishment dollars, and cites minimum requirements for those that are.

Funding for the program comes from document stamp money that was not previously devoted to any specific project. Before the funding was set aside in the 1998 legislation, that money went into the general fund.

That law guaranteed the state would set aside at least $30-million, though the budget for fiscal year 2000-2001 contains $34-million for beach renourishment. That money will be met with federal and local matches, bringing the total to about $100-million for renourishment projects around Florida.

Elected officials in the beach cities, who have struggled to convince legislators of their sand needs in the past, say the law eases their burden.

"The Legislature can't look at it and say, "Wow, there's $100-million we can use for something else,' " said Ward Friszolowski, the mayor of St. Pete Beach.

Friszolowski said the next step for the state should be deregulating the permitting process that cities must undergo when they want to place more sand on their beaches.

Only eight companies worldwide do beach renourishment work, Jones said. As a result, the state cannot devote much more money to such projects because the contractors are simply too busy elsewhere.

According to the DEP, one-third of the state's beaches are critically eroded. Among those is Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach, where severe erosion forced the city to close down dune walkovers last year because the sand under them had drifted away.

The city finished a massive renourishment of Upham just weeks ago. That project received funding from every level of government, but Upham's erosion problem is so severe that the city anticipates repeating the project in about four years.

The Legislature named the law the "Dennis L. Jones Beach Management Act" in honor of Jones, who will not run for re-election to his House seat because of term limit restrictions. Jones said he prefers to call it "Beaches Forever" and also credited former longtime state Sen. Mary Grizzle with being his "renourishment mentor."

"This is the lady who told me, no matter what you do, just keep sand on our beach because no sand, no business," Jones said.

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