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Best of 2013: Sand Dunes For Dollars On Singer Island


BRADENTON -- On April 17, 2012, Governor Rick Scott signed off on a $69.9 billion State Budget for FY 2013, after vetoing an additional $142.7 million in spending. The cuts eliminated 4,400 jobs, and among those were many Florida Department of Environmental Protection positions. If reducing spending was the goal, and Scott said it was, then why is the FDEP spending untold amounts to truck thousands of tons of sand to Singer Island, so the richest of the rich can have more beach?

Singer Island is located in Riviera Beach, just south of metropolitan Palm Beach in Palm Beach County, and is some of the most expensive real estate in Florida. So why is the FDEP picking up 40 percent of a tab for digging, transporting and dispersing hundreds of dump trucks of sand to put on their beaches?

Local officials say they have a problem: almost 15 linear feet a year of some of the most expensive property in the state is being consumed by the ocean. But that is what oceans do, until the fate of the coast is shaped back to nature's way. And if those who want more beach than nature is willing to provide thinks it is the taxpayer's responsibility to do so, the FDEP seems to agree.

On September 12, 2012, Palm Beach County approved a project to hire 600 semi-trucks to haul 12,000 tons (at nine dollars a ton) of sand, for what they are calling, "beach renourishment." I suppose that if the tax payers of Palm Beach County want to guarantee enough beach for their Hampton friends, that's one thing, but where the sand comes from and its cost is another.

What is being called the Coral Cove dune restoration, and the Singer Island dune restoration, is partially being funded with Tourist Development Tax (a levied revenue that includes the Beach Improvement Funds) all of which are public dollars. But their contributions consist of only a fraction of what the cost is to those whose future is in the state of Florida. 

The FDEP said it will contribute 40 percent ($400,000), Rivera Beach will kick in $200,000, and the Beach Improvement Fund will add another $650,000. 

But to calculate the actual cost, one would have to factor in the expense in transporting 600 trucks over 150 miles round trip; the toll for the wear and tear to the roads, and the property value lost when mining over 800 acres of sand. 

One would have to take into consideration the millions of gallons of water wasted, polluted and then disposed of, be willing to destroy hundreds of acres of foliage, and withstand ruination of habitats that are essential for many of Florida's creatures. 

A round trip for 600 trucks would use over 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel (tons of CO2), and each 30-truck convoy is using a police escort. Who's picking up the bill for them? There is wear and tear on the police cars, gas for them as well, and many police get paid overtime for those off-duty deals. Plus, let's not forget all of the pollution that comes from the equipment that mines the sand and loads the trucks.  

Singer Island is a refuge for a large amount of the sea turtles that populate the state. To think there will not be extreme compromising to their nests, their food and their safety, would seem ludicrous.   

Many beaches around Florida are in need of some protective measures, but projects like the one on Singer island should encourage a reexamination of just why and when we can quit pouring millions of dollars into the sea. It is not just our pocketbooks getting injured here, it is our everything. 

This erosion replacement has been performed at Singer Island annually since 2004, costing over $6.6 million, and scheduled to cost up to $9 million more from the state's coffers, plus that untold expense to an environment which is largely out of the public's eye. The mining of phosphate for fertilizer, limestone for cement and sand for beach restoration has caused catastrophic damage that cannot be replaced. 

The reefs that once lined the coast of Singer Island are buried now and cannot be replaced with pictured post cards of sandy beaches, nor can the interior parts of the state ever be capable of replacing the vital life that took millions of years to evolve. Our children's future should not forever suffer from some bogus bill of goods, sold to local government officials for a few campaign contributions.    

Hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from the FDEP/SWFWMD operations in Govenor Scott's initial budget, and recently another round of pink-slips went out to almost half of the 160 FDEP employees in the Tampa Bay area. Why does this reoccurring event at Singer Island get priority? And if Scott is going to can environmental oversight, does that mean all of those external costs are not a reality?

On FDEP's list there are almost 40 such projects around the state, some patchwork as a result of poor planning, and many just examples of how corporate America privatizes the profits and socializes the costs. It is going to take an informative public to decipher the true cost, if they are willing. 

Scott says, "You have to be willing to make the hard choices." He should tell that to the now-unemployed FDEP workers in Tampa Bay, while he's on his way to pick up reelection contributions from what George Bush called his 'base' at Singer Island.


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