New tax would cover sand replacement

Real estate owners from Normandy Beach to the Martin County line can expect to pay a new property tax next year to help cover the cost of replacing the sand that routinely washes off the beaches.

St. Lucie County Commissioners intend to start talks in August about establishing a Municipal Service Taxing Unit that would generate about $550,000 per year for sand replacement projects.

The commissioners could provide another $550,000 per year, which would bring the annual budget for south county beach nourishment to $1.1 million, said county Coastal Engineer Richard Bouchard.

“We have until the end of this year to establish an MSTU for inclusion in the 2020 tax bill,” Bouchard told the commissioners last week during budget meetings. “Establishing the MSTU is essential in the decision-making process of how to move forward.”

The annual revenue stream can be used to take out loans to finance the $5 million upfront payment St. Lucie County must provide to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by July 1, 2021 for a $22 million beach restoration project that will start the following year.

The Army Corps plans to dump more than 400,000 cubic yards of sand along the 3-mile long shoreline from Normandy Beach to the Martin County line.

In the long run, the new tax money will help the county pay for the 50-year nourishment program for the south county beaches, which is expected to cost $85 million, Bouchard said.

The federal government is currently expected to pay about 35 percent of the program’s costs, leaving about 65 percent to St. Lucie County, Bouchard said.

However, increasing the number of public beach access points between Normandy Beach and the Martin County line could reverse those percentages, Bouchard said.

So far, two condominium associations have agreed to provide additional beach access and a third is negotiating with county officials, Bouchard said.

However, Bouchard warned the county’s sand replacement reserves and long-term financial plans could be washed away by a catastrophic storm and/or sea level rise.

“I believe when it comes to beaches, there is no limit on the reserves,” Bouchard said. “It can be wiped out in one hurricane.”

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