Beach Easements: Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need beach nourishment?

Before the beach renourishment program, little to no beach existed along much of the Pinellas County shoreline. Beaches are very dynamic and are constantly changing. Along undeveloped shorelines, movement is often not detrimental and may go unnoticed. However, the changes in beaches along developed shorelines are often very evident and detrimental to beachfront properties. Images of the Pinellas shoreline before nourishment and after years of nourishments can be found on the nourishment comparison before (1990) and after (1990) story map.

Why do we need the easements?

Securing easements for construction projects is normal practice for capital improvement projects, not just beach nourishment. The County also obtains easements for flood control, drainage and trails. If a project crosses private property and public funds are used, an easement that allows for the construction, maintenance and replacement is required.

For decades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the county have partnered to nourish Sand Key every six years. Between nourishments, we monitor for beach erosion, sea turtles, nesting shore birds, lighting concerns and other permit requirements.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Pinellas County cannot nourish beaches without easements. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also advised that if easements are not in place within the dunes area, they will not pay to place sand seaward of that area. Pinellas County’s agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers puts the burden on the county to obtain all federally required easements within the project area. Pinellas County has been working since easement acquisition began in 2016 to request changes to the easement language and the policy, including numerous meetings with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Unfortunately, they have been unwilling to change their position on this requirement.

Why weren't the easements needed before?

Because the 2018 project was already being designed and budgeted when the extent of the easement requirements became known, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked with those easements obtained to construct as much of the Sand Key project as possible. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ current position is that further nourishment of these areas will not occur without the easements.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been very clear with the County, the cities and the property owners who attended workshops in 2019-2020* that what occurred in 2018 will not happen again. *Please see the Indian Rocks Beach Meeting Sept. 23, 2020, at timestamps 50 and 1:15, and Indian Shores Meeting March 12, 2020, at timestamps 11:20 and 13:20.

What does "public access" mean?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires the public have access to nourished beach areas, but that access is not unrestricted. The area within the easement is still owned by the property owner. The dunes area is protected and regulated by the state of Florida.

The following conditions apply:

  • The dunes are protected by Florida state law and activities within the dunes that could harm sea oats are not allowed (Chapter 161 Florida Statutes).
  • Beach nourishment is governed by State Permit #0238664-008-JN, Specific Conditions 3 and 4, which protect the dune vegetation within and around the construction area.
  • All county and city ordinances and regulations in place still apply.

Public access does not apply to the upland. The public cannot sit on the seawall, access the beach through the upland property, park in private parking lots, or use a condo or homeowner’s pool or other private property.

How is beach nourishment paid for?

Nourishment funding in Pinellas County is typically split three ways: 60% from the federal government (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), 20% from the state (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) and 20% from local funds (tourist development tax). Without signed easement agreements, the federal and state funding could be at risk. The total cost of the 2018 Sand Key project was nearly $42 million and the 2012 project was $35 million. Both projects received the full available amount of federal funding.

Does the state of Florida nourish beaches or help fund these projects?

The state of Florida does not nourish beaches except for those within state parks. The state does provide funding opportunities through grants to help local governments like Pinellas County. To receive state funds, local governments must apply and have their projects ranked. These grants are very competitive because most local governments that nourish beaches apply for supplemental funding. A key factor in the ranking process is a federal project authorization. Federal projects score higher and the Sand Key beach nourishment project is a federal project. Without federal funding, the county’s cost would likely rise from $7.8 million (2018 county cost) to the full project cost of more than $40 million and become even more expensive in the future.

What are an erosion control line and a coastal construction control line?

An Erosion Control Line (ECL) is a boundary line fixed by the state on a nourished beach dividing private (landward) and public (seaward) property. See Florida Statutes, Section 161.191. It is typically set at the mean high water line and established before the first nourishment. See Florida Statutes, Section 161.161(5). The ECL can be found on the erosion control line map.

In the state of Florida, the establishment and approval of an erosion control line is required before the initial construction of a nourishment project. In the Indian Rocks Beach and Redington Shores areas, ECLs were established in several segments before the initial beach nourishment. Because of the successive cycles of nourishment, the ECL, which does not move, is now located within the dunes in many areas.

The Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) is a line of jurisdiction, defining the landward limit of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s authority to regulate construction. The CCCL program protects the beach and dune system from upland construction that could weaken, damage or destroy the integrity of the system.

Doesn't the state already have access to the beach for nourishment?

Not entirely. According to Florida law, beach property seaward of the erosion control line is state land. However, sand must often be placed landward of the ECL to restore the proper slope, elevation and function of the beach. Easements are needed in advance to ensure the entire beach requiring sand can be restored. Without the required easements, the project could be indefinitely delayed until all easements are received or are permanently canceled.

What can I do?

It is wise for the County and property owners to have easements in place so the U.S. Army Corps can plan, budget and build an uninterrupted nourished shoreline that provides optimal storm protection benefiting all beachfront property owners. You play an important role in communicating the importance of beach nourishment and the required easements to your coastal community.