Naples Daily News
November 30, 2016
County, city and state leaders discuss 'Shrinking Shores' at Naples forum
The Florida lawmaker who could be in charge of the legislative subcommittee responsible for beach spending in 2017 said Wednesday he will push for more money to combat erosion across the state's coast.
"As much as we can get," state Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, told an overflow crowd at a Naples Daily News community forum on Florida's beaches. "I don't know what that looks like."
More than 160 people attended Wednesday's forum.
It followed the Daily News' four-part "Shrinking Shores" series, which explored how Florida leaders have failed the state's most important asset by not keeping commitments to pay for beach renourishment despite allowing coastal development and nearly doubling the miles of shoreline threatened by erosion.
Albritton, a citrus farmer who represents an inland district, is waiting to hear whether he will be reappointed to a third term as chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee for natural resources, which includes beaches.
He warned that beaches will have to compete for money in a year when revenue projections are flat. Estimates forecast a $1 billion shortfall in fiscal 2018, he said.
"We're probably looking at playing some offense (for beaches) this time," Albritton said. "We're probably looking at playing some defense two years from now."
The Florida law that set up the state's beach funding program pledged at least $30 million a year for beaches, but that commitment was reduced during the recession, and beach funding has stagnated. Lawmakers approved $33.9 million to help repair eroded beaches this year. Incoming Senate appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, has called for at least $50 million in beach spending next year.
Albritton said funding beaches "makes sense to me" given that the state receives nearly $3 billion in sales tax revenue each year from tourists in beach counties. Every dollar spent on beach renourishment generates more than $5 in economic activity, the state Legislature's research arm has found.
At one point in Wednesday's forum, Collier County coastal projects manager Gary McAlpin, one of the panelists, asked Albritton to help revamp the way the state ranks local beach renourishment projects for a share of what McAlpin said is too little state money. McAlpin is critical of the ranking system, particularly its favoritism to projects that get federal money.
"It gets really, really, really tight," McAlpin said of the annual competition for state dollars.
Last year, Albritton proposed a bill that would have created a tiered system that would have given more weight to beaches depending on their economic value to a community, the hurricane damage buffer they provide, and whether the project already has received state money and needs more money to finish. The bill did not receive a hearing.
Albritton said it was a "huge, momentous change" and likened it to a nuclear weapon blowing up the way the state doles out beach money. He said he is "contemplating a new direction" for the upcoming legislative session.
"I'm open to that discussion," Albritton said. "Big things like that take time."
Naples Vice Mayor Linda Penniman, also a panelist, renewed her call for Collier County to look at whether the county is spending too much of its tourist tax revenue on tourism promotion. Beaches could be at risk without a larger share of the tourist tax, she said.
"We're promising something we might not be able to deliver," Penniman said. "Things are little out of kilter here. We need to talk."
Wednesday's forum included audience member questions, including from some people who asked whether local and state governments are doing enough to combat sea level rise.
Penniman said action on sea level rise is a "tough sell" to city council members and county commissioners unless they hear more concerns about it from citizens they represent.
When asked what Tallahassee leaders were doing about sea level rise, Albritton said he didn't know.
"I'm not going to sit here and blow smoke," he said. "I have no idea. I'll tell you this: I'll find out."