PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Beachfront property owners across Florida are nervous, as few of the states’ beaches have escaped a relentless line of storms in the past 12 months.
Gov. Jeb Bush said erosion was the top issue raised by local officials when he toured the Panhandle on July 11, a day after Hurricane Dennis struck the region.
Federal, state and local governments already are spending millions across Florida to widen and build up eroding beaches and repair damage from Ivan and three other powerful hurricanes that hit last year.
“If it’s appropriate — it probably will be — to up the ante a bit, we’ll do it,” Mr. Bush said during a recent visit to the storm-stricken area.
Hurricane Dennis came ashore about 20 miles east of Pensacola, but beaches along about 200 miles of Panhandle coastline were battered to varying degrees. Many of the same beaches took a pounding from Hurricane Ivan last year, Tropical Storm Arlene last month and Tropical Storm Cindy just days before Dennis.
The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing about $160 million worth of restoration work, including $120 million from federal coffers, on 15 major restoration projects in Florida. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent about $33 million on smaller projects to repair storm-damaged beaches, and the figure was expected to grow.
Although beaches and dunes can recover from storm damage on their own, that could be too late for some coastal property owners.
Gregory Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University, noted that a common technique of transporting sand to the affected areas is just “a Band-Aid on a cut,” because the beaches will erode again, requiring more periodic restoration.
Critics such as Orrin Pilkey, director of Duke University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, also said such tactics — called beach nourishment — are the wrong answer.
“Why should we, the taxpaying public, be responsible for this really, really arrogant act of lining up buildings on a shoreline that’s well-known to be eroding and at a time that the sea level is rising?” Mr. Pilkey said.
“If they think it’s worth saving, then let them save it themselves with their money,” he said, suggesting that development be moved a safe distance from the shoreline.
Florida officials, however, say it is money well spent. They cite a 2003 study by Florida Atlantic University that showed the state gets a return of $6 to $8 in taxes paid by tourists for every dollar spent on beach restoration.