VIDEO: Collier commissioners look to guarantee public access to renourished beaches

White cones mark an area of Vanderbilt Beach in front of the Moraya Bay development as private on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 in North Naples. A large group of citizens appeared at Tuesday's Collier County Commission meeting where the commission vowed to fight to keep the beach accessible to the general public. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

White cones mark an area of Vanderbilt Beach in front of the Moraya Bay development as private on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 in North Naples. A large group of citizens appeared at Tuesday's Collier County Commission meeting where the commission vowed to fight to keep the beach accessible to the general public. David Albers/Staff

Video from NBC-2

Collier County commissioners voted Tuesday to explore ways to guarantee public access to beaches widened with public money.

Earlier this year, the Moraya Bay luxury condominium on Vanderbilt Beach set off a firestorm when it sectioned off a chunk of its beach and marked it private. The condominium later reopened the beach.

Tuesday’s move was part of a decision by commissioners to move ahead with a $1.5 million emergency beach restoration project along two severely eroded stretches of beach south of Doctors Pass and south of the Seagate beach access point in North Park Shore.

Commissioner Tom Henning pushed to make the public access guarantees a prerequisite for the emergency restoration, citing what he said was a “wake-up call” from the Moraya Bay debacle.

“Spending $1.5 million and then later one of the property owners ropes off their property?” Henning said. “Boy, what an embarrassment that would be.”

Other commissioners said the erosion emergency was too pressing to acquire the guarantees and still widen the two beaches in time to provide a coastal buffer before the peak of hurricane season.

Representatives of the condominiums who would benefit from the emergency widening told commissioners they always have allowed the public to use their beach and have no intention of changing that policy.

Under Florida law, beachfront property owners own the sand out to an erosion control line established for beach renourishment projects.

Collier County gets easements from property owners to allow equipment to traverse private beaches during widening work, but the easements do not guarantee public access.

Commissioner Jim Coletta originally sided with Henning but later agreed to support the emergency project without public access guarantees as long as the county pursued the policy for future projects.

The emergency project, to be funded by tourist tax revenues, involves two 1,000-foot stretches of beach that would be widened with sand from a Central Florida mine.

Hundreds of dump trucks would deliver the sand to conveyor belts that would carry the sand onto the beach, where equipment would spread it, county plans show.

The project is running into nesting season for sea turtles, including the threatened loggerhead, which began May 1.

Environmental regulators are weighing whether to allow the work to proceed under special conditions meant to minimize impacts to nesting sea turtles.

Those permits won’t be in hand until at least June 15, the county’s coastal zone management coordinator Gary McAlpin said.

If the permits are not issued quickly enough, the county would proceed with a more expensive two-phase project.

The first phase, which could be done with existing permits, would involve putting 2,000 to 3,000 cubic yards on the dry part of the beach south of Doctors Pass.

Another 37,000 cubic yards would be put on the two beaches in a second phase, which could take four to six weeks to complete.

Since July 2009, the two erosion hot spots have lost an average of 34 feet of width through February 2010 thanks to stormy winter weather.

The erosion has left wooden stairs to one beach floating in mid-air and have eaten a 4-foot cliff into the dunes.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.

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