News-Press

November 29, 2016

Plans continue to protect our coastlines

The News-Press editorial board

http://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/2016/11/29/editorial-11-30/94595298/

The coastline along Southwest Florida and the state is in the spotlight this week as the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season closes Wednesday and beaches get renewed attention.

Hurricane season

While it’s been relatively uneventful for Southwest Florida, the 2016 hurricane season won’t be forgettable. The season saw more than 1,500 killed, including the devastation in Haiti, and caused more than $11.5 billion in damages.

After 10 calm years since Florida’s last major storm -- Hurricane Wilma came ashore in Collier County in 2005 -- 2016 was another sobering year for the state, hit by three named storms. It was an unusual hurricane season overall, starting when Hurricane Alex dashed through the Atlantic in January, the first time that’s happened that month in 60 years. The last 2016 storm was just before Thanksgiving, when Otto formed but then crossed Central America into the Pacific.

The year’s worst storm, Hurricane Matthew, spared Collier and Lee counties but skirted up Florida’s east coast, leaving eroded beaches and coastal damage. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data show Matthew has resulted in more than $48 million of flood insurance payouts and $105 million in household assistance so far in five states. Florida has received about $70 million in FEMA aid to property owners and businesses, including $31 million in flood insurance payments and $15 million to assist affected households, federal data show.

Much recovery work remains for various charities -- such as Naples-based Hope for Haiti -- that assist the island nation. Matthew, which reached Category 5, and a subsequent cholera outbreak killed some 1,000 in Haiti, according to news reports. For information on helping the Naples organization with donations and critically needed supplies, go to hopeforhaiti.com.

Beaches

The cost for FEMA assistance to restore eroded beaches and shoreline is yet to be determined along Florida’s east coast. Storm damage takes time to assess and document for government aid. In fact, a sand-replenishing project that resumes this week in Collier after a Thanksgiving weekend break is partially due to Tropical Storm Debby affecting South Marco Beach in June 2012.

The $3.9 million project is sending dump trucks from an Immokalee mine to beaches for two months. More than 135,000 tons of sand will be spread at South Marco, Vanderbilt Beach, Pelican Bay, Park Shore and Sugden Regional Park in East Naples by early January. Crews work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, county staff said.

Lee County appears to be in good shape with its beach renourishment and dredging projects. Future dredging projects in Big Carlos Pass and in New Pass are out for bid. Blind pass between Sanibel and Captiva islands continues to be dredged for renourishment efforts for Sanibel beaches. Beaches also are being monitored along Gasparilla Island, Captiva and Lovers Key. The county also made a smart decision recently to tackle several renourishment projects at once, rather than one a time, to help keep costs down. The county also has available to it - thanks to Department of Environmental Protection regulation changes - the ability to get a 15-year permit for renourishment and dredging projects in the coastal zones to save time and money. That permit was first utilized in 2013 for Bonita Beach and Lovers Key renourishment work. For past projects that called for frequent work, the county had to get a permit each time.

Some of the state’s storm-affected beaches were highlighted in the recent The News-Press and Naples Daily News series “Shrinking Shores.” The series uncovered state shortcomings in protecting beaches -- nearly half are labeled as critically eroded -- and the need to overhaul the formula that ranks renourishment projects.

The Daily News hosts a forum about the series from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will be live-streamed on naplesnews.com. Panelists include state Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, who proposed changes to the way Florida ranks and chooses beach projects; Gary McAlpin, Collier’s coastal zone manager; Brian Flynn, Miami-Dade County’s former beach manager, and Naples Vice Mayor Linda Penniman.