Florida Coastal Policy Update (2014)

Issue 2, 2014

Florida Coastal Policy Update

By Gary Appelson

Armoring White Paper –
The construction of sea walls on or immediately adjacent to sea turtle nesting beaches can degrade nesting habitat, deter or interfere with sea turtle nesting, prevent natural beach recovery after storms and increase beach erosion. In an effort to inform the public and provide guidance on how to best construct and locate seawalls as far landward as practicable in order to reduce the impacts to nesting habitat, STC recently collaborated on the production of a seawall construction guide, “A Guide to the Siting of Seawalls” (Guide). It can be found on STC’s website at /policy-initiatives-coastal-policy-initiative/?page=armoring. The Guide was produced by Coastal Tech, a coastal consulting and engineering company, in collaboration with STC.

As coastal erosion continues to threaten Florida’s eroded beaches and adjacent upland structures, landowners often resort to sea walls to protect their property. Florida’s coastal armoring laws try to strike a balance between protection of property and the need to preserve the beach and protect threatened and endangered sea turtles. Consequently, sea walls must be located as far landward and off the nesting beach as practicable. However, regulatory loopholes abound. It is unusual for Florida regulators to deny a permit to construct a sea wall. Property owners often want sea walls constructed further seaward than is allowed, and engineers can differ on ways to construct or locate walls.

The Guide offers advice on how to minimize the impacts to nesting habitat. It summarizes the laws and regulations in Florida that govern coastal armoring construction and provides a summary of the common types of armoring found along the state’s beaches. It describes the engineering practices available to properly locate walls as far landward as possible. The Guide hopefully will bring increased attention to this issue and encourage Florida regulators to take a more cautioned approach to how they permit seawalls.

2014 Florida Legislative Session –
A bill introduced during the legislative session authorized the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue expedited “general permits” to local governments for beach activities such as dune restoration and the construction of dune crossovers. It also expanded DEP’s authority to issue individual general permits for the construction of swimming pools and the repair of coastal armoring adjacent to the beach. STC worked with DEP and the bill’s sponsors to clarify and amend parts of the bill to ensure adequate sea turtle protections remain in place. The bill also authorized DEP to increase public usage of the state’s Aquatic Preserves by granting concessions for recreational activities. The broad language of the bill could have been interpreted to allow marinas or hotels in the preserves. These preserves protect large areas of marine habitat used by sea turtles. STC worked with other conservation organizations to draft amendments requiring public notice and review of concession contracts and to limit concessions to activities compatible with the mission of the preserves.

The Florida Beaches Habitat Conservation Plan –
STC has long believed that a variety of state-regulated activities that occur on or adjacent to the beach can harm sea turtles. For example, the state issues permits for sea walls that when constructed too far seaward can harm sea turtles or nesting habitat. The construction of dune crossovers onto the beach can trap turtles. Beach raking and cleaning activities permitted by the state, if not done carefully, can harm nests. The U.S. Endangered Species Act prohibits activities that cause “take” of threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles. Take includes activities that directly kill or injure these species, activities that interfere with essential behaviors such as nesting, or any significant habitat modification that results in harm. To resolve the potential conflict between the ESA and these state-regulated activities, the ESA allows the state to obtain federal authorization for the possible harm caused to listed species. To obtain authorization the state must obtain a federal Incidental Take Permit (ITP). For years Florida has resisted applying for an ITP. However, following the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons and the resulting frenzy of emergency activities such as the construction of miles of sea walls, the state realized there needed to be a better way to expedite reconstruction and cleanup while still protecting beach-dependent listed species such as sea turtles, beach mice and certain nesting shorebirds. Consequently, in 2007 the DEP applied for an ITP for its beach-regulated activities. The ITP requires the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The HCP in turn requires the development of strategies and policies that minimize the harm from state activities and mitigate for harm that can not be avoided. STC was appointed to the 7-member steering committee established by DEP to help guide the HCP’s development. The FBHCP is now in its 6th year of development. STC remains strongly committed to this process. To learn more, visit http://www.flbeacheshcp.com.