INLET AT 100: Putting $2M annually to good use

Sebastian Inlet District, celebrating its Centennial this year, currently receives about $2 million annually in funding from a millage rate levied on property owners within the district’s geographic boundaries, amazingly the same boundaries set by the state Legislature back in 1919.

The district extends south from the inlet into Indian River County to State Road 60, and north into Brevard County to near the Pineda Causeway. It includes the communities of Sebastian, Fellsmere, Gifford and portions of Vero Beach in Indian River County, and Melbourne Beach, Indialantic, Micco, Grant, Malabar, Palm Bay, Melbourne and West Melbourne, and parts of Indian Harbor Beach and Viera in Brevard County.

Just what do those tax-paying residents, and the region and beyond, get from those tax dollars, and are the rates going up? A rate hike does not seem likely as, thanks to matching grant funds from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the numbers of coastal management and other projects for the inlet have gone up while the millage rate has gone down.

According to the district, from 2004 to 2014, the district commission reduced the millage rate by 68 percent while in the same 10-year time period securing more than $8 million in state matching DEP grant funding.

The fiscal year 2018-1019 rate was set at 8.7 cents per $1,000 of taxable value, generating $2,149,407 in ad valorem tax revenue from property owners in the district. That means the owner of a home assessed at $500,000 would pay $43.85 annually.

“Our intent is to maintain that strategy going forward, meaning no tax increase using the roll-back rate,” said Sebastian Inlet Executive Director James Gray. Gray is the former Indian River County Coastal Engineer who took over the inlet post in April from long-time leader Marty Smithson.

The funding received by the Sebastian Inlet District goes to coastal management, maintenance programs and projects, and increasingly environmental monitoring of important habitats and wildlife.

In terms of having the tools for meaningful coastal management, data collection on the inlet was greatly enhanced in 1993 when Florida Institute of Technology’s Dr. Gary Zarillo installed wave and weather gauges on the North Jetty to measure currents, water pressure, elevation and velocity to determine speed and direction.

Analysis data from the fixed wave and current gauges help monitor seasonal sea level changes, sediment transport and accumulation within the inlet system focused on managing sand resources in the Sebastian Inlet area.

That data recently changed the location for sand nourishment placement further to the south from the inlet in Indian River County after sand under certain weather conditions was found to be traveling back north and into the inlet’s sand trap, Gray said.

The sand trap is a 42-acre submerged depression in the west of the inlet. It is dredged every 4-5 years when filled to capacity at about 200,000 cubic yards of sand.

“We are one of the most data-rich inlets within Florida and we’ve been conducting this type of monitoring for more than 20 years, so we have a good handle of the state of our inlet which is more or less dynamic equilibrium,’’ Gray said.

Environmental monitoring of wildlife such as sea turtles and habitats such as “hard bottom” has been an increasing focus for years as a way to ensure to the state that the grant projects don’t cause harm, he said.

Upcoming maintenance projects will focus on south inlet shoreline that was damaged during Hurricane Matthew, he said.

Editor’s note: This is the third of a series marking the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Sebastian Inlet District. This installment covers how the inlet is funded, who pays property tax to the inlet and the economic benefit having the inlet in the area has on the local economy.

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