Submitted by: Jerry Murphy
Every resident of PL ought to look, on the web, at the “Pelican Briefing: June-September 2012 Edition”. On the first page of this document will be seen a picture of the PL beach with a row of chaises that appear to be slightly above the high tide line based on the position of beach debris that appears in the photo. Then on the second page another wider shot of the beachfront portion of the beach park shows two rows of chaises and chairs above high water with an additional fair distance of open beach before the water reached much above the ankles of the bathers in the shot. Then back to the first page. The BOD President John Duder boasts that “we had a wonderful season of very active beach use with beautiful white sand available for our chaises and umbrellas.” However, Mr Duder further advises the reader that as soon as the state establishes by survey the geographic parameters of the planned re-nourishment, the BOD will go ahead with a contract to perform that work, presumably at a cost to us of the earlier estimate of $ 3 million. “Why” would be a reasonable reaction even if you did not know about the adverse interpretation by Florida’s Dept. of Environmental Protection, of the law and regulations regarding beach repair, that Mr. Duder neglected to add to his glowing description of the “wonderful season” had at the very same beach that is now to be repaired…re-nourished if you prefer. Mr Duder finishes with the statement that the repair work will both “stabilize” the beach and bring it back to near its former state.
Well what about the ruling of FLEPA that Mr Duder did not bother to mention? The ruling, handed down in mid-April, presumably before the PL publication went to press, relies on elements of the common law that has been in use in FL and elsewhere since our republic was founded. It requires that if you put sand on your private beach (read re-nourish), seaward of mean high water you make the resulting beach public and nothing you do thereafter changes that. Mind you, this is settled law worked over recently in cases brought in Walton Cy FL by waterfront residents in Destin. The relevant common law was affirmed by both FL courts and the US Supreme Court. So if we go ahead as Mr Duder says we will, and he cites no reservations in that regard, our formerly private beach available to only PL residents and Hyatt visitors, will also be available to any member of the beach-going public. How will they get there? How do the fair number of people get to the north end of the island now in their boats to enjoy the limited beach there? Could they and their friends not anchor somewhere adjacent to a far more attractive newly expanded public beach not far away and enjoy a renourished beach experience. And as someone suggested, the way also would be open to enterprising water taxi captains to provide access.And remember those now famous lines from that great film about baseball: ” you build it, they will come!”
The proximity of an attractive recently restored public beach directly adjacent to privately owned beach facilities such as rest rooms and recreational spaces and structures, sets up what would appear to be a difficult dynamic. Are those facilities available to the beach goers who are neither PL or Hyatt people? How will the facilities be reserved for only private use? It sounds messy and potentially confrontational…great fodder for the local newspapers and TV.
Other details that Mr Duder might have addressed concern the uncertainty and possible liability associated with the “stabilization” he asserts will be the result of the $3 million repair project. First, if we install devices to control the movement of sand relative to our beach we stand some chance of affecting some other beach or shore property…perhaps damaging that property in the view of its owners. Perhaps it is not a high probability if the PL project is properly designed. But risk has two components: the probability of an event happening and the cost if it does. And anything to do with waterfront property is wildly expensive. Finally, stabilization and Florida weather are often at odds. In the past few years we have been lucky as named hurricanes have found other places to destroy. But it would take only a bad tropical storm or a glancing blow by a medium intensity hurricane to impact beach stabilization in a severe way. After all, more damage is caused by water than by wind in such weather events. Were that to happen we might wind up in the same place we are now…even much worse.
So why are we spending OUR $ 3 million on THEIR beach? Yes we get to use it with them, and we will be allowed to spend another $3 million in a few months or a few years if the weather ruins the beach again…as it may…it is not a totally improbable event. Believe it. Talk to people with beach re-nourishment experience in communities all around us.
Perhaps most perplexing, even maddening, is the extent to which the PL community has been shut out of this process particularly as PL has been arm-wrestling with the State of Florida, more exactly the FLDEP. As I recall, at a much earlier point, residents did not have a vote in this matter as the financing process was arranged…some say manipulated… to avoid it. And now the President of the BOD presents us with what amounts to a mandate to enter into a process that has, particularly now thanks to the FLDEP, ramifications that arguably have not been thought through by even those closest to it…to say nothing of the community at large. I maintain there is no such mandate nor should there be until a lot of further thinking goes into the process and the community is brought into the guts of the problem and not patronized by a one shot presentation summarized to elude the unpleasant realities. The first step ought to be to put an immediate hold on the contracting that Mr Duder wishes to engage in after the restoration parameters are set. That needs to be followed by lots of community involvement to include an up and down vote to undertake this project in its present form.
It’s our community and our money, we ought to demand that we have an appropriate say in how it is spent.