Our beaches and ecology are the main draw of visitors to Lee County, and the beach and shoreline program serves as a great enhancement to these assets with funding provided by the tourist development tax. Utilizing 26.4% of the five-cent bed tax, this program has provided more than $115 million dollars to variety of countywide projects related to beach maintenance, beach nourishment, and beach park facility development. Each of these projects represents a cooperative effort with governmental agencies in Lee County from our local municipalities to the federal government. With the countywide nature of the program, new recreational opportunities are being provided in areas of Lee County that our visitors have not historically visited, presenting new experiences and opportunities for exploration.
The Beach & Shoreline program provides direct benefit to visitors and residents alike, all with the goal of promoting tourism while preserving and enhancing our beaches and shoreline. Many of these projects have proven to have a major impact on visitor activity. For example, the visitor count at Lovers Key increased more than 138% the first year after the completion of the Carl Johnson/Lovers Key project, with 53,653 visitors in 1998 and 127,723 in 1999. Since then, the numbers have reflected an amazing increase with more than a million visitors during the 2016 fiscal year, making it one of the most popular state parks in Florida. The investments from the beach and shoreline program are clearly paying off!
Additionally, these tourist-generated funds have served as budget supplements, allowing for the provision of services at a level that exceeds what could be provided without additional taxation to local residents. For example, the maintenance of the public beach accesses is funded by the tourist tax at no additional cost to the residents who also use these facilities.
TDC & Long-Range Erosion Control Plan
Each year the Tourist Development Council (TDC) appropriates a portion of the beach and shoreline program funds to a beach re-nourishment trust fund to assist with future re-nourishment needs. This is done to protect our most precious tourism asset—our beaches. As part of its long-range plan, Lee County Department of Natural Resources has estimated the erosion control funds needed over the next ten years. Each erosion control project undergoes a thorough cost-benefit analysis to determine funding opportunities. After assigning the state and federal cost sharing figures, the balance required for each project is divided by the storm protection and recreational benefits based on the availability of public access. If not publicly accessible (as defined by the State of Florida), the storm protection portion is deemed the responsibility of the homeowners and the recreational portion is funded with the beach re-nourishment trust fund. Regardless of who derives the recreational benefit - the property owners, local residents or visitors - this portion is funded exclusively with bed tax revenue.
Current Projects & How Projects Are Funded
Local governmental agencies may request funding each year. TDC members review the requests and evaluate each project on several criteria to determine if they are eligible for funding. Once the projects receive TDC approval, they are forwarded to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for inclusion in their annual capital improvement budget (CIP) process.
The TDC’s recommendations for FY 2016-17 provides funding to 25 projects valued at more than 9 million. Some projects include:
For an update on projects that were funded in previous years are in various stages of development, click here for a status report. Many of these projects are long term and will require additional funding in future years. A number of projects have been funded over multiple years including beach access development, improvements at Bonita Beach Park, Bowditch Point Regional Park, and Crescent Beach Park. Mound House Park, Bowman's Beach master plan, countywide emergency beach cleanup, Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, and Matanzas Pass Preserve improvements.