By Cheryl Blackerby
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, beach restoration and how to pay for it were at the top of the agenda for commissioners of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District.
“There’s going be a big grab for federal money with the issues in the Northeast,” said the district’s attorney, Art Koski, at the Nov. 19 meeting. “The city is looking for FEMA money. But I don’t think we have the strength politically.”
Boca Raton’s engineers estimate the city’s four miles of beaches lost just under a million cubic yards of sand, which would cost about $5 million to replace, said Jennifer Bistyga, coastal program manager for the city of Boca Raton. This is a guess, she said, because there had been no surveys at press time. Surveys were expected the week of Nov. 26, weather permitting.
But some of the sand lost from Sandy is already returning. “We’re starting to see sand bars forming, and we will survey that, too, to see how much sand will come back,” she said.
The sand loss from Sandy was more troubling than past storms, she said, because Boca beaches lost height as well as width, which might add to restoration costs.
Before Sandy damaged the Palm Beach County coastline, Koski already had advised commissioners that federal money for beach restoration had dried up. At a September meeting, he said it had been customary for the government to fund about 70 percent of restoration, which left 30 percent to be paid by state, county and local governments, but now the entire cost is falling on local governments.
This is particularly troubling to the board, which in October approved the reimbursement to the city of Boca Raton of $2 million, in addition to a partial reimbursement of $2 million already paid, for a beach restoration project that took place several years ago.
The board didn’t anticipate paying for additional beach restoration projects for another five years or longer. Two months later, board members are already looking at substantial payments for more beach erosion. The board is still waiting for damage assessments reports, Koski said, on district beaches, including Ocean Strand, a 15-acre property, and Red Reef Park, a 67-acre oceanfront park that includes the 20-acre Gumbo Limbo Environmental Education Center, which has lifeguard stations and elevated walkways.
Raising money through taxes was suggested, but Chairman Earl Starkoff expressed concerns about “the issue of fairness as it relates to western constituents paying into a special district fund for restoration” on beaches they may not use as much as those who live on the beach or at least closer.
Starkoff also considered the option of both the city and district working with other coastal communities on a funding solution with a regional view.
No official damage reports are in hand, but the beaches undoubtedly lost sand and width and had some damage to beach structures.
With the district potentially footing the bill for future restorations, attorney Koski expressed hope that the district would now have a say in where and how the money is used instead of simply writing a check to the city, which it has in the past.
“Prior to this, we have never been involved in the design process, other than years ago when there was a question whether a dredging project was going to cover the rocks. That was always left to the city,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that this district will now be able to take a more active role so that we can provide some input, some recommendations, and some ideas to the ongoing problems.”
Commissioner Dennis Frisch suggested exploring a less expensive and mobile, even disposable, design for lifeguard towers on the beach. “We seem to be doing an awful lot of rebuilding,” he said.
Koski said the city has reported back to him that it has “the most functional and practical lifeguard towers that exist.” Ú