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NAPLES — Severely eroded stretches of Vanderbilt and Naples beaches will get a little more sand under an emergency declaration authorized Tuesday by Collier County commissioners.
Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the emergency renourishment, which follows a double-whammy to the beaches from tropical storms Debby and Isaac this summer.
Even before the two storms, though, hoteliers and some commissioners had been flummoxed by the slow pace of the county's plans to beef up the beaches. The sentiment carried over to Tuesday's meeting, where commissioners also voted unanimously to move forward with a more extensive renourishment for Vanderbilt, Park Shore and Naples beaches starting in September 2013.
Commissioner Georgia Hiller called the timeline "unacceptable," and Commissioner Tom Henning said county officials owe commissioners an explanation for why the beaches are overdue.
The last major beach renourishment happened in 2005 and 2006 and was meant to last for six years. In 2011, commissioners asked county beach planners to explore ways to extend the life of the next renourishment by putting more sand on the beach than in 2006.
But when the Federal Emergency Management Agency didn't come through with an expected $11.2 million share, it threw the county's funding scheme out of whack and sent the county back to another smaller, six-year renourishment project. It is estimated to cost between $15 million and $17.5 million.
The same shortfall also is prompting the county to review options for a project to add sand and rebuild erosion control structures at the southern end of Marco Island.
Vanderbilt Beach Resort owner Mick Moore told commissioners big beaches are too important to the county's tourism industry to "let it slip" into 2013 and 2014.
"That's going to be a problem for us, the public and anyone else who uses the beach," Moore said.
Permitting hurdles have tripped up plans to get sand for the major renourishment on the beaches sooner than September 2013. The work will continue through the spring of 2014. A permit isn't required for the emergency project.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to budge on its requirement for a biological review of the major project's effect on piping plovers that nest on Southwest Florida beaches.
County Manager Leo Ochs defended the county's work on the next beach renourishment: "We're not delaying that. We never have and we'll continue to expedite that to the best of our ability."
In the meantime, the emergency renourishment could get started in November and be completed by year's end, according to county estimates. It is estimated to cost $650,000.
Sand would be trucked to the beach from an inland sand pit, possibly in Immokalee, and then spread along the dry part of the beach from La Playa to just north of the Ritz-Carlton and from Lowdermilk Park to the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.
The beaches will be made higher at the dune line but won't be widened into the water so as to avoid the need to go through the time-consuming process of getting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit.