There’s a lot of ways to pay for the shoreline at Alligator Point to be renourished, and the taxpayers there, and throughout the county, have at least until the 2023 Florida legislative session to figure it out.
But that doesn’t mean it’s too soon to start building a consensus, or lack thereof, on a project to build up the beach, a project that will include the creation of a parking area to serve those who come down to sink their toes in that very sand.
Former County Planner Alan Pierce, and County Finance Director Erin Griffith, both addressed the subject in detail to the monthly meeting of the Alligator Point St. Teresa Association Saturday morning by Zoom. Mike Dombrowski, a shoreline engineering expert whose 20-year-old Destin-based company has done work throughout the Gulf Coast, had planned to attend, but was pulled away to be on hand for work his company as doing in Panama City.
The basic picture that is emerging is that the state has shown a willingness to back what will eventually be a multi-million project, by funding $200,000 for engineering and design work. But they still have to come up with as much as $5 million in beach renourishment dollars, to match the $5 million the county has already secured in RESTORE Act monies, which are billions of dollars in civil penalty dollars paid out by BP based on their role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“The state has made it a priority to reserve funds for beach renourishment,” Pierce said.
But tied in with that is the state’s commitment to tourism, because those sales tax dollars fund state government, and that’s why renourishing the beach brings with a stipulation that infrastructure be created to handle visitors coming to use that beach.
“If we do have a beach there are several ways to maintain it,” he told the association, which at its meeting also welcomed new president Dr. David Harris, who succeeded Ben Houston.
It’s a lot of money to make sure that the millions poured into the project at the outset, as sand is pumped from offshore to the shoreline, are not wasted.
“I don’t think the county will build a beach just to have it wash away,” said Pierce.
While APSTA board member Allan Feifer estimates that it will take anywhere from $275,000 to $400,000 annually to replenish the sand at the rate of erosion, a process done every four years, Pierce and Griffith pointedly did not comment.
“We don’t know what the maintenance costs are,” he said.
Whatever they turn out to be, they’ll have to covered, and Pierce outlined three alternatives for funding, and Griffith added a fourth.
Pierce said the parking lot required by the state, which the county plans to put on seven acres of land at the former KOA campground, could raise as much as $30,000 to $50,000 annually to defray these maintenance costs. He arrived at that estimate by calculating a price tag of $5 a day at a car lot of 100 spaces, for a 100-day season.
“The parking lot is for day visitors, someone who doesn’t have a rental place to go at night,” Pierce said. “You have to comply with DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) requirements in order to maximize state funding.”
Pierce also noted that the Tourist Development Council can spend no more than 10 percent of its annual revenues, which this year will eclipse $1.75 million, if not go higher, on beach renourishment throughout the county. But to put that cap in perspective, this current year’s $140,000 allocation for beaches is being spent on the bathroom replacement on St. George Island.
Alligator Point has 10 percent of the county’s entire stock of short-term rental units, and produces about 5 percent of the lodging tax revenue, Pierce said, adding that that discrepancy has to do with the vacation rental companies and marketing efforts being less aggressive for this easternmost area of the county.
A third mechanism for funding are assessments, in the form of annual fees on properties, but Pierce commented little on the subject, other than noting that having different tiers of payment depending on proximity to the beach - a condition that was defeated by the Point’s voters a decade ago – would not be a good idea.
Griffith suggested tax increment financing, of the sort that both cities use to fund their Community Redevelopment Agencies, might be a good option. This TIF option establishes a base year for county taxes, and then the increases in the tax base in each subsequent year, go towards a specified project.
Pierce suggested residents speak with representatives of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, or other non-profits for guidance on the subject.
Whatever is worked out, the fortifying of the shoreline is seen as a pre-requisite for any long-term reliable preservation of the one road that feeds the area, and which regularly washes out in the event of rugged storm.
And that doesn’t just involve residents’ and visitors’ cars and trucks, as the road ensures access to the Point’s water supply.
“The beach protects the road and the road protects the water line,” Pierce said.