MARCO ISLAND — Like sand through the hourglass, Hideaway Beach continues to disappear.
Three years of project planning and permitting have taken their toll on a portion of Hideaway’s gulf coast and on Katie Maline, facilities manager of the Hideaway Beach Association.
Where sand was visible just a few years ago, barren and desolate vegetation stands atop mammoth blocks placed near the waterline to help hold what’s left.
On Tuesday, Collier County commissioners finalized a last step in helping Hideaway Beach mitigate its erosion problem by approving an interlocal agreement among all parties. The agreement passed 3-2 with Commissioners Jim Coletta and Tom Henning voting against it.
Hideaway can begin replacing 120,000 cubic yards of sand and adding six new t-groins to the two already in place to enhance beach erosion control. The project will be funded with $1.6 million from Collier County’s “bed tax,” a 4-percent charge on all hotel rooms and other short-term stays in the county, and a loan of $1.6 from the City of Marco Island. Additional costs will be covered by Hideaway residents.
In the form of a loan, the city’s contribution will come from a special tax on Hideaway’s property owners. The city will gain interest on the loan and will oversee the project.
“Hideaway Beach is a special taxing district, and as such, beach renourishment will be done through that district,” said Bob Creighton, the city’s purchasing and contracts manager. “The taxing district falls under the city’s umbrella and the city is responsible for all bids and purchases.”
Low-bidder Center Contracting/Center Marine, a joint venture private company, was awarded the contract by the city. Center Contracting Corporation is a licensed and registered Florida entity headquartered in Heathrow, Fla.
Still waiting to be permitted is the public restroom required when county funds were approved in 2008 for the project. During the funding debate, Hideaway’s public versus private status came into question. Hideaway Beach is a gated community.
“Although not technically a private beach, historically Hideaway Beach has been considered private, but tax dollars cannot be spent unless it is a public beach,” said Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala. “The Commissioners agreed to fund the $1.6 million t-groin project if Hideaway provided a public restroom.”
The stipulation for a public facility came from Coletta who said he would approve the t-groin funding if Hideaway agreed to provide a public restroom. The 2008 funding request was approved by a 4-3 vote, said Fiala; and even though he voted against the 2010 interlocal agreement, Coletta was the swing vote in 2008.
The restroom’s design and permitting created several roadblocks for the project.
“The original design was a portable bathroom on wheels that could be rolled on and off the beach. Commissioners felt that didn’t meet their requirements,” said Fiala. “A permanent structure design for a restroom on stilts met county and FEMA requirements but was not satisfactory for Hideaway.”
The final design was a compromise.
“The restroom will sit on the ground and look like the forestry restrooms you see in parks,” Maline said. “It will be located at the south end of the property. The area has an existing boardwalk and there will be a boardwalk leading up to the restroom. There are some benches and a gazebo already in the area.”
Fiala agreed the revised plan satisfied commissioners’ requirements.
“Hideaway has done everything right to meet the spirit of the restroom request,” she said.
Maline said she is waiting for final approval by the state and regulatory agencies for the unisex, one stall restroom facility.
Although a sticking point, the restroom is not Maline’s main focus for the project.
“We are in the pre-mobilization stage,” she said, hoping to quickly replace receding beachfront. But the 5- to 6-month project comes during prime turtle nesting season.
Nancy Richie, environmental Specialist for the City of Marco Island, said the project’s permitting process included an environmental opinion by agencies deemed stewards of wildlife. That review set guidelines to make sure no birds, turtles or nests are impacted.
“Mary Nelson, Marco Island’s ‘turtle lady,’ and I will start monitoring April 1 on Hideaway Beach. That’s about a month earlier than turtle nesting season which starts May 1,” Richie said. “Mary will monitor every morning for crawl marks. If a nest is found in the project area, it will be moved to an area of the beach that is not being impacted.”
Hideaway is the site for about one-third of all turtle nests on Marco Island, Richie said.
“Last year there were seven nests in the vicinity of the renourishment. So much sand has been washed away that it’s likely no turtles could nest there this year,” Richie said. “This renourishment project will re-create lost habitat for loggerheads.”
The Nature Conservancy of Southwest Florida will be monitoring seabird activity during the project.
After the project is completed, the public will have boat access to the beach and restroom. Boaters, who used nearby Coconut Island in years past, have been visiting Hideaway Beach since the small island washed away. Ironically, that island, without a restroom facility, was a popular boating destination and acted as a buffer for Hideaway Beach. Since its disappearance, erosion on Hideaway Beach has increased.
“I was at Hideaway Beach and saw people coming by boat,” Fiala said. “A hotel even dropped off some people for shelling. The restroom is what will make it stay a public beach.”
Hideaway Beach is bordered on the south by county-owned Tigertail Beach. To its north and around the point to Collier Bay and Smokehouse Bay, Hideaway Beach is bordered by State of Florida land.