The Captiva Erosion Prevention District decided Thursday to go forward with the 2013 beach renourishment project even without backing from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The project was scheduled to begin this year after the CEPD entered into a written agreement with the Army Corps in 2005, but on July 22, district commissioners received a letter from Brig. Gen. Donald Jackson stating, "it has been determined that the project is not eligible for federal funding from the Corps at this time."
Col. Alan Dodd, representing the Army Corp of Engineers, attended a CEPD meeting at Tween' Waters Inn Thursday and explained how the decision to rescind the agreement came from the Atlanta headquarters, and not from the district office in Jacksonville.
The project had been approved, said Dodd, but upon further analysis it was determined it wasn't in compliance with federal policies and regulations, specifically having to do with easements and parking at the beach.
"There is no way we can move forward until we are able to resolve the issue with easements and public parking," said Dodd, who added that the Army Corps wanted to see the project completed. "We believe this is an important project and we will do whatever we can to support you."
The last-minute decision by the Army Corps didn't come from a change in federal policy but from a reinterpretation of what is already on the books, and errors made by the Army Corps in communicating the policy requirements to the CEPD.
CEPD commissioners and members of the community were shocked and confused that they were told only hours before the opening of construction bids, even though the two entities had been working together on this project since 2009.
Chairman Jim Boyle said Thursday was the first time the district received specifics, other than Jackson's letter, as to why the agreement was rescinded. He asked Dodd a number of questions about what exactly caused the Army Corps to pull out, but remained stunned.
"To pull this out in the twelfth hour, it's unbelievable," he said.
CEPD has been applying for waivers from the Department of the Army to overturn the decision from Atlanta, but commissioners said that has a low probability of success, so plans are being crafted to move on without the Army Corps. They will investigate how to receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) instead, as well as other sources through the state and Lee County.
The Army Corps will also return $12 million to the district now that the agreement was rescinded.
"We will be moving forward and now we should address the easements and parking," said Commissioner Mike Mullins.
Paul McCarthy, owner of Captiva Cruises, asked how the CEPD could enter into an agreement with the Army Corps based on policy written prior to 2005, follow the policy, and be told "a week ago, that someone, someplace said we didn't."
CEPD Secretary Harry Kaiser said he had never seen a turn around where money was pulled so quickly.
"Now you come here in the last minute and tell us we have to scramble. I wouldn't know what to tell my other landowners around here because I don't think they have enough money, but we need the beaches for the people who live here and come to visit," said Kaiser.
The decision by the Army Corps to reinterpret the policy could have far reaching consequences for other projects across Florida, as they will be reexamined under a similar lens.