Erosion reduction efforts underway to protect "Beer Can Island"

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LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. - Coastal erosion is threatening the very existence of a popular hot spot for boaters called “Beer Can Island” at the north end of Longboat Key. But now some are questioning whether the plan to save the beach is really the best option, and whether the public has been kept in the dark.

Longboat Key officials say erosion has taken its toll on the beach, and they have a plan they say will stop it. But a former Manatee County politician is saying not so fast.

Calling the popular boating spot an “island” is a bit of a misnomer. The location is actually a peninsula at the very north end of Longboat Key. Right now the plan is to build two concrete pier-like structures called “groins”, which would jut out into the gulf and slow the erosion.

"We want to hold some sand there for the recreational beach. The beach is part of our natural habitat here," says town manager Dave Bullock. He says the groins would also provide erosion protection for two condominiums near the beach.

But a former Manatee County commissioner says there are other options.

"One: continually re-nourish the beach in front of the structures," says Joe McClash. “But there's also something called retreat, where you can re-locate those buildings further upland away from the natural shoreline."

McClash also says the public hasn't been properly informed about the proposal, which he claims would diminish recreational areas for boaters. "So what they failed to do is actually put up signage at the place where people use this island and say this is what we're doing."

Bullock disagrees with that, saying the public has known about the proposal for years. “The voters of Longboat Key went to a referendum in 2010 and they voted to fund the structures on the north end of the island."

Even so, McClash has filed for an administrative hearing on the issue after learning that state leaders plan to approve permits for the project. He is also hoping to get an environmental impact assessment on the project.

The total cost of this initiative is expected to run about $10 million, which the voters of Longboat Key have already voted to pay for.