MARCO ISLAND — Hideaway Beach's Tax District Board thought it had gained ground for funding its $2.35 million beach erosion control project. The community voted to be taxed at the highest level allowed for Municipal Service Taxing Units but fell short of the necessary funds for the project.
The board applied for an out-of-cycle Tourist Development Council grant and was awarded $925,000 in October. Collier County's Board of County Commissioners granted the funds for three erosion control structures. Hideaway's MSTU would pay for the rest including engineering, permits, dredging and replacement sand.
In December and with a newly elected member, county commissioners decided to reconsider the grant putting the entire project on hold. Commissioners will hear the reconsideration on Jan. 8.
On Thursday, the Hideaway board discussed the effects of the delay and possible loss of $925,000 if county commissioners rescind the grant. The project was planned to begin in the first quarter of this year.
Work requires 90 days of shorebird monitoring before dredging can began. The Hideaway board discussed beginning monitoring immediately hoping structures will be funded through the TDC. Erosion control structures can be erected prior to the completion of monitoring.
The project will take four to five months to complete with sand being added to Hideaway's central beach northward. A late start means the City of Marco Island will need to approve work into turtle nesting season.
Tim Pinter, city public works director, told the board dredging 24 hours a day, seven days a week could be approved by the city manager. That would reduce the number of days needed to complete the project.
Bruce Anderson, attorney for the Hideaway Board, discussed his belief that a misstep in calling for reconsideration in December may have left an opening for action against county commissioners. Commissioner Donna Fiala moved for reconsideration in November and was turned down. According to county rules, if a vote comes up for reconsideration and fails, it can not be reconsidered again.
That should have been the end of the story, Anderson said, and no other motion could have been made. But some county commissioners questioned whether the project met legal considerations for TCD funds that require the project to be in the public interest.
Since Hideaway Beach is a gated community, public access to the beach is restricted and only approachable by water. But the Hideaway board said it has documents showing the county accepted a "quid pro quo," receiving improvements to Caxambas Park and boat ramp in lieu of a 200-foot wide pedestrian access through Hideaway.
With Tigertail Beach next door to Hideaway Beach, the Hideaway board concluded the county put more importance on the boat ramp than on pedestrian access. Tigertail Beach is the county's largest facility on Marco Island.
Hideaway's MSTU is administered by the City of Marco Island placing its erosion control project under the city's public works. Pinter told the Hideaway board he cannot proceed with the project or award a contract until funds are assured.
Paul Fernstrum, a board member and resident of Hideaway Beach, monitors beach erosion. On Friday, he reported the beach that began with 165 feet of sand from the high water mark to the closest building, currently has 83 feet at the worst spot.
That spot was down to 67 feet on March 4, 2011, Fernstrum said, but tropical storms during the summer added sand taking it to 104 feet. Northwest winds in the fall removed sand and reduced the beach to its current size.
That volatility is what worries Fernstrum who said he hopes reconsideration by county commissioners will still provide the money needed for the Hideaway project.