MARCO ISLAND — There was really only one point up for discussion at Tuesday's meeting of the Hideaway Beach Special Tax District meeting at City Hall. The big news was that Hideaway won a 4-1 vote in the Collier County Board of Commissioners meeting on Oct. 23, granting Hideaway nearly a million dollars for beach restoration.
Unless they decide to take it back. This was the scenario the Tax District Board returned to over and over on Tuesday. The meeting Tuesday was all about that previous county commission meeting, which had a major contingent on hand from Marco Island. City Manager Jim Riviere, City Attorney Burt Saunders, City Councilor Jerry Gibson, Hideaway Beach Tax District attorney Bruce Anderson, and consultant Michael Poff of Coastal Engineering all attended, along with tax district Chairman Erik Brechnitz.
At the county commission meeting, Commissioner Tom Henning joined in the vote for the project, after he "talked passionately against it," said Brechnitz. "We suspect he intends at some point to ask for a motion to reconsider, and he can only do that if he voted for it." He added that the second vote, if any, would take place after a new commission is seated following the upcoming election. Commissioner Georgia Hiller was the lone vote against the Hideaway project.
"We got a favorable opinion from the county attorney," noted Brechnitz. "Clearly, we are not eligible for TDC funding," as Hideaway is too difficult to access by land to be considered a public beach, "but we are eligible, not for sand, but for erosion control structures."
"If you put in sand, you know where it's going to go – right into the channel," said board member Paul Fernstrum.
Keeping the Hideaway Beach condos, on the northern tip of Marco Island, out of the channel is the point of protecting the beach. The project the board members fervently hope to get underway soon is phase three, including three T-groins positioned to keep a sand barrier between the encroaching waters of Big Marco Pass and Hideaways condo buildings 5000 and 6000.
Asked why the board has to deal with two different federal agencies, both with requirements on safeguarding wildlife, Poff explained that the National Marine Fisheries Service governs from the waterline seaward, whereas the US Fish and Wildlife Service has jurisdiction from the waterline upwards. Marine Fisheries shepherds sea turtles while they are swimming, plus toothed fish, while Fish and Wildlife watches over shorebirds, plus nesting seabirds and nesting turtles. If approvals and bids come in on schedule, along with the $975,000 grant from the county, Hideaway is hopeful of completing their project prior to sea turtle nesting season, and greatly simplifying the work.
They can save some money, said Poff, if City of Marco Island personnel can take on some of the monitoring chores.
"The timing may work out rather well," said Marco's Public Works Director Tim Pinter, sitting in as city liaison to the board. "Your old contractor is on the island right now working for us," potentially easing the staging for the work, getting equipment in place with the least possible delay.
Anderson reported that Hideaway had been turned down for a FEMA grant, again.
"I have the feeling we took $5,000 and burned it in the fireplace," said Brechnitz, of the funds expended seeking the grant. "Let's develop some institutional memory – we've seen that movie before."
City Councilor and Hideaway resident Larry Magel, who sat in on the meeting, said afterward he is not convinced the funds for the beach erosion control are securely in hand.
"I'll believe it when I see it," he said.
"We're pleased to see this money, but there's always a question why someone would speak against it and then vote positively," said board member Dick Freeman.
The county commission meets again on Nov. 13, and the Hideaway board's next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 27.