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Central Beach sand replenishment hits snag


A major sand replenishment project in the critically eroded Central Beach area could be compromised if the Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa and a handful of other property owners refuse to let county contractors place sand on their oceanfront property.

The county has plans for a $6 million project slated to begin in November that will place 205,000 cubic yards of sand from Tracking Station Park to Castaway Cove – a stretch known as Sector 5 – but the project could be undermined if oceanfront property owners and homeowners associations refuse to sign an agreement allowing the county to place sand above the mean high tide line on their private property.

So far, the county has received a green light from 63 property owners and is still waiting to hear back from 8 others. Four oceanfront properties, including Costa d’Este, have rejected the agreement.

The standoff comes in the wake of a state law that went into effect a year ago that took away local governments’ power to simply declare beaches public through the ‘customary use doctrine,’ putting in place a requirement for a court ruling to settle disputes about public access to privately-owned beach above the high tide line.

“If we don’t obtain these easements, we’re are going to be forced to have the contractor stake out that private property and then bypass that property when we go to place sand,” said Kendra Cope, the county’s coastal resources coordinator. “That then leaves holes within the project so then the project will not perform as well as it was engineered to do.

“During our king tide events or our wintertime seasonal tides – which are typically higher up on the beach than summer tides – it’s more likely that sand will not perform the way it should and it’s likely to erode quicker, because there are these gaps in between sand placement. We would like to avoid that so this project is as cost effective as possible and also as performance effective as possible.”

The push-back stems from language in the agreement that allows the county a perpetual easement for future beach renourishment projects and allows the public to use the sandy land above the wet beach for recreation, county officials and property owners said.

“The county has always had to ask for [temporary] beach construction easements prior to beach projects,” Cope said. “This perpetual easement has been crafted specifically since the county is doing three beach projects over the next year and wants to preserve the traditional recreational uses of the beach. The easement does not grant any new recreational activities” or violate property-owners rights.

Costa d’Este spokeswoman Jessica Milton told Vero Beach 32963 in an email, “Costa d’Este supports the county’s initiative as it relates to the broad area detailed in the plan . . . [but the resort’s] direct participation in the project required the hotel to grant a perpetual easement that did not guarantee perpetual sand replenishment.

“The proposed easement also called into question issues regarding the public’s right to use the beach behind the hotel, as the community has done for decades. For those reasons, Costa d’Este declined to participate. This decision will not impact the county’s ability to proceed with the project or the community’s continuing right to access the public areas of the beach behind the hotel.”

Milton added the resort will assume full responsibility for replenishing the beach behind the hotel at its sole expense.

Two additional projects, slated to begin in November 2020, also require the signatures of private property owners, Cope said.

Those projects will infuse roughly 900,000 cubic yards of sand at a cost of $25.75 million along a 6.6-mile stretch of shoreline between the north island community of Seaview and Turtle Trail beach park near the Carlton condominium, an area the county calls Sector 3, and in Sector 7, a 2.2-mile stretch that extends from Seagrove to the Moorings.

Between them, those projects require 336 signatures. So far, no property owners have declined to sign on the dotted line, county officials said.

The other holdouts on the Central Beach project include the small commercial plaza at 3426 Ocean Drive, north of the Holiday Inn, and two single-family homeowners.