A partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may be the best way to give Key Biscayne’s beaches the major restoration they need, local leaders say – and they’ll consider bringing in high-powered experts to help make it happen.
The Village will hear from a leading attorney and lobbyist December 12 and then decide whether to invest tens of thousands of dollars in their services to push beach restoration forward.
Village Council member Gary Gross updated his colleagues November 14 on his research into Key Biscayne’s beach restoration options. Calling the project an “ever-evolving effort,” Gross said a recent conference call with Army Corps staff shed some new light on the best path ahead.
“Originally, we thought we could work primarily with the state, but now we’re realizing we may have to go the federal route,” he said.
For one thing, Gross said, there’s a lot more funding available at the federal level. Second, if the Army Corps is managing the project, it works from the top down – the Village wouldn’t need a Florida Department of Environmental Protection or Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management permit, which could ease problems with seagrass and other issues.
“They do the project, and it gets done,” as Gross put it.
Gross said his conference call included discussions of various federal financing options, and the best one for Key Biscayne appears to be the Hurricane Shoreline Protection Program, through which federal officials analyze the needs of coastal communities and address them as necessary.
Gross said Miami-Dade County is currently part of the program, with an agreement that expires in 2025. The Village could wait until then and try to get in under the County’s umbrella when it reapplies, he said, but that would mean waiting seven years – and in those seven years, the Key would probably have to do two or three “band-aid” restorations at $2-3 million each.
Therefore, he said, the best option is to try to enter the Hurricane Shoreline Protection Program as soon as possible.
He said the Village does have a window of opportunity, in that Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has offered her assistance with the initiative prior to her announced retirement in 2018.
Gross said the Village should take Ros-Lehtinen up on her offer, and combine her significant influence with that of two experts he recommended retaining: Spencer Crowley, an attorney with Akerman LLP and marina and coastal permitting specialist; and Jim Davenport, a high-powered lobbyist who has helped municipal clients with a variety of permitting issues and projects.
“This whole thing is very political,” Gross noted.
He warned Crowley and Davenport won’t come cheap: Davenport is seeking a $6,000-per-month contract for a year, and Crowley’s fee would be based on how much work he needs to do once Davenport is in place. “It seems like a lot of money, but we’re talking about millions and millions of dollars that are at stake here,” Gross said, a nod to the high cost of a major beach restoration. “It’s going to cost us some money, but I think we need to go for it.”
His colleagues said they want to hear more, and asked for Crowley and Davenport to present at the December 12 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers.
In the meantime, Council members said they won’t abandon their efforts at the state level.
Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay said Village state lobbyists are working on legislation that would help Key Biscayne move higher in the state’s ranking system for funding, and those efforts will continue. Gross agreed, noting being in the federal program would give the Village more points with the state, so the efforts should proceed in tandem.