LOCAL

‘Social media is just a cesspool’: Renourishment project targeted

Andrea Stetson
Correspondent

A simple consent agenda item to approve requesting tourist dollars to increase the scope of a renourishment project at Tigertail Lagoon, Hideaway Beach and Sand Dollar Island turned into a lengthy debate with councilmembers accusing social media of interfering with government. Shortly after the nearly five-hour meeting began Councilman Erik Brechnitz quickly pulled the item from the consent agenda.

“Social media is a cesspool of bad information,” he stressed while asking the council for further debate. “Over the weekend this thing blew up.”

Brechnitz accused people on social media of spreading lies about the item and telling the public that the project would cost taxpayers. He wanted to set the record straight telling everyone that the project is being paid for entirely by residents of Hideaway Beach, who agreed to a special tax for this, and by Tourist Development dollars.

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The northwest tip of Marco Island, that includes Hideaway Beach, Tigertail Beach and Sand Dollar Island has been severely eroded since Hurricane Irma swept ashore in 2017. In September, Hurricane Ian exasperated the problem forcing the project to need more funding to fix the extra damage. At issue Monday night, was asking for $650,000 more to enhance the original project due to the latest hurricane damage. But City Council members said social media and a slew of emails blasted the plan dispersing news that taxpayers would foot the bill. Brechnitz said one woman started the rumor and it quickly spread.

“The $650,000 we are requesting is not being paid for by tax dollars. It is paid for by Tourist Development dollars, and if we don’t get it, we just won’t do the project,” Brechnitz said. “Social media is just a cesspool, and people say stuff that is just totally inaccurate and people pick it up and then it becomes fact. Over the weekend these social media folks were so misleading that people are actually writing letters to the coastal advisory commission advising them not to approve the extra $650,000. We have been working on this project for 4-5 years, and over one weekend social media posts are ruining it. This is a classic example of never letting a good deed go unpunished. It is just unfathomable.”

Mohamed Dabees, vice president of Humiston & Moore Engineers, and project engineer, said the extra funding is important.

Sand is removed from the lagoon, under the eyes of the local bird population. A roughly $4 million dredging and renourishment project is underway at Hideaway Beach to keep Sand Dollar Lagoon healthy.

“If council turns it down, they can’t do the additional work,” Dabees explained at the meeting. “The ramifications are that we will build something substandard. We will be more vulnerable if we get hit by another tropical storm. We would have to come back after the first tropical storm that affects our area, and it would take on additional mobilization.”

Hideaway Beach, Tigertail Beach and Sand Dollar Island had been popular places in the past with more than 500,000 visitors a year. Those numbers dwindled to 200,000 after Hurricane Irma destroyed much of that area.

“Now except for bird watchers no one wants to visit it because it is not much more than a mud flat,” Brechnitz described. “Hurricane Ian destroyed even more.”

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The project, that began in November, entails dredging about 428,000 cubic yards of beach sediment from multiple areas to place on Hideaway Beach and Sand Dollar Island. The project will recreate the sand spit and barrier system to prevent the lagoon at Tigertail Beach from being silted in.

Brechnitz praised the residents of Hideaway Beach for taxing themselves to pay for renourishing a public beach and lagoon.

“Hideaway Beach is a neighborhood,” the councilman said. “Those folks are our neighbors, and they happen to be very generous neighbors that have agreed to tax themselves to keep that beach open for the rest of us.”

After lots of assurances that taxpayers will not pay a penny for the work, councilmembers voted 7-0 to approve moving forward with the project.

“I think I got the message across,” Brechnitz concluded. “Anyway, it is solved now, and the big deal is Thursday (Jan 12) when the coastal advisory council meets to consider our need for $650,000.”