County beach repair projects in jeopardy

PHOTO BY KAILA JONES

Indian River County is on a mission to secure agreements with 90 percent of beachfront property owners needed to restore some nine miles of hurricane-eroded sand – or risk losing federal and state grants paying for the lion’s share of the $25-million projects.

The county plans to begin restoring dunes and spreading sand along a 6.6-mile stretch from Treasure Shores Beach Park south to Turtle Trail Beach Park known as Sector 3 and another two miles from Sea Grove south to the Moorings (Sector 7) in November.

The Sector 3 project is expected to cost $14.8 million while Sector 7 is estimated at $9.9 million. Federal and state grants would cover about 70 percent of the total, with a completion deadline of April 30, 2021.

But county public works director Rich Szpyrka told commissioners last week the restoration may be in jeopardy because a majority of private property owners along the affected beaches have not yet granted permission needed to get the entire project done, despite three rounds of mailings. 

With gaps between restored beaches, Szpyrka said, storm protection and sea turtle nesting are compromised. He recommended securing 90 percent or more agreements from each of the two sectors to proceed with renourishment.

Chris Hendricks, chairman of the county’s Beach and Shore Preservation Advisory Committee, promised to hold a meeting in July and work with county staff to knock on doors and send registered letters to get the word out.

“Not to put the sand on the beach is not the answer,” Hendricks said. “It protects us all.  It’s our primary responsibility. That’s why we’re called Vero Beach. And without the sand on that dune, it won’t be beach much longer.”

Kendra Cope, the county’s former natural resources manager, said the county would be setting the bar too high by requiring 90 percent signed agreements to proceed with the project.  She noted that during her tenure, the 3.1-mile beach sector from north of Seawatch condominium to the Riomar Golf Course was restored with 88 percent of easements granted.

Commissioners voted to table the issue until their July 14 meeting to give the beach advisory committee a chance to meet and allow county staff to come up with ideas to drive up easement agreement numbers.

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