If you go
The Collier County Commission meets beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the commission chambers at the county government complex, corner of Airport-Pulling Road and U.S. 41 East.
MARCO ISLAND — In a near unanimous decision, the Collier County Tourist Development Council voted Monday to recommend the county kick in $350,000 to help pay for erosion control on a final stretch of Hideaway Beach.
Collier County commissioners are scheduled to make a decision today. The money would come from the tourist tax — a 4 percent charge on hotels and other vacation rentals.
The controversial project on Marco Island has been the subject of intense political maneuvering, with some county commissioners questioning the public benefit of using tourist tax money to help pay for it.
In October, county commissioners approved a $925,000 grant from a tourist tax fund to pay for three erosion control devices for the multimillion-dollar beach rebuilding project. Later, Commissioner Tom Henning pushed to overturn the decision and then Commission Chairwoman Georgia Hiller suggested the cost of the devices be shared with the Hideaway Beach Special Tax District based on the value of the public benefit.
An analysis by an outside consultant, Coastal Engineering Consultants, showed the county will save $300,000 to $400,000 on dredging costs for Collier Creek if the three devices are installed on the northern end of Hideaway Beach. The time between dredgings would be increased, so that only two dredgings of the creek would be required, instead of three over the life of the project, which is 25 years.
“This is a very logical approach,” said Naples Mayor John Sorey, a member of the Tourist Development Council, an advisory board to county commissioners, before voting for it. “I think it’s a good compromise and it’s justified by the data.”
Council member Susan Becker disagreed. She was the only vote against it, saying she didn’t see how it would benefit tourists.
Marco Island City Councilman Larry Sacher described Hideaway Beach as a critical part of Marco Island, saying the city couldn’t afford to lose it.
“It’s a tremendous boost to tourism,” he said. “The Marco Marriott uses it for the Catamaran tours out there.”
He talked about the number of people who come in by boat and how the restaurants near Hideaway Beach benefit.
Henning, who sits on the Tourist Development Council, asked staff members what would happen if just one erosion control device were installed instead of three. He heard from Gary McAlpin, the county’s Coastal Zone Management director, that it wouldn’t be enough to slow erosion.
It’s estimated that a third to half of all boat traffic on Marco Island uses Collier Creek to get access to the Gulf of Mexico.
Eric Brechnitz, board chairman for the Hideaway Special Tax District, shared a letter from the owner of a restaurant at the Esplanade, CJ’s on the Bay, who considers the inlet critical to the business.
Brechnitz also shared with the council that the dockmaster for Esplanade sees about 200 boats a week coming in.
Henning said none of what he heard at the meeting convinced him that the beach project would benefit tourists. However, he said, he knew there were two properties — Boat House Motel and Paradise — near Collier Creek offering daily, weekly and monthly vacation rentals and that means they’re collecting tourist taxes, just like any hotel would. Based on that, he said, he would support sharing in the cost of the erosion control devices.
Council members voted 7-1 to recommend the cost-sharing plan. The vote included a finding that the project promotes tourism.
The county recently asked the Attorney General’s Office for an opinion about using tourist tax money to benefit a beach that’s so isolated, but the opinion that came back said the decision was basically up to commissioners, said Jack Wert, the county’s tourism director.
Under the sharing plan, the taxpayers of Hideaway Beach would pay about $2 million for the beach improvement project. That includes paying for engineering, permitting, dredging and the placement of up to 25,000 cubic yards of sand.
Twice before, Collier County commissioners have agreed to spend tourist taxes on erosion control devices for other stretches of Hideaway Beach — and the same arguments arose about whether the money should go to a beach that’s so secluded and hard to get to without a boat.
County commissioners will vote on several other beach projects today that were discussed and given a thumbs-up by the Tourist Development Council on Monday. They include awarding a contract for a channel-straightening at Wiggins Pass, a project that has been years in the making, and accepting a consultant’s peer review of the size of a proposed renourishment project for Vanderbilt, Park Shore and Naples beaches.