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Portifino is going to add towers?

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This is really old news.  Rinke announced in 2010 that development was beginning, and stated a full year ago that construction would actually start within a couple of years on these last two Portofino towers, 6 & 7.  They were always part of the plan for the property, though they seem to have morphed into something quite a bit more upscale than the original five towers.   At the time of the 2016 announcement, prices were expected to start at around $1 million per unit.  The amenities will be extensive and luxurious.

And our traffic will be that much worse.

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Their hot dog stand will have more customers. I saw 10 people lined up getting hot dogs. It is a beautiful place. Our friends stayed their for a week a few years back and say their balconies are the best on the beach. I think my chair is better.

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I'm absolutely with you on the chair, Sea. Mine, too. Couldn't pay me to live in Portofino. Presents all the problems of trying to dwell in a hotel and then some, including careless, noisy renters and big groups of kids who tie up the elevators on purpose. This is not to mention having to cross a busy road to get to the Gulf -- the main reason we didn't consider buying at most of the other Panhandle beaches. No way, Jose. Glad your friends got lucky and enjoyed their stay there.

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Paving Over Paradise
Read an excerpt of the new book 'Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss' by Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite. It's an expose of state and national wetland protection laws.
| 3/1/2009
Paving Paradise:
Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss
By Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite
» Now available from the University Press of Florida. Visit book's website.

Ch. 9
The Myth of Mitigation

"This is how no net loss really works:

Florida’s Panhandle is known for its sugar-white beaches and its picturesque dunes. But amid the dunes on Pensacola Beach lie scattered marshlands, lush with saltmeadow cordgrass and pennywort. These marshes are vital to the purity and health of the emerald green waters of nearby Santa Rosa Sound, home to a plethora of sea trout, redfish, ladyfish, and jack crevalle.

In 1997, a development company with control of 28 acres of the beach proposed building a $250-million luxury condominium project called Portofino. The plans called for building five towers, each with 150 units, each 21 stories tall. The Portofino condos would be the tallest buildings between Tallahassee and New Orleans.

The two main partners in the company building Portofino were lawyer Fred
Levin, a leading Democratic Party fundraiser with close friends at all levels
of government, and his brother Allen, one of the Panhandle’s most successful
developers. Fred Levin’s name carried a lot of weight in Florida. He used
his political contacts to score a multimillion-dollar fee from a major tobacco
case, then made such a hefty donation to the University of Florida that the law
school was named in his honor. He gained further fame by helping to manage
the career of boxing champion Roy Jones Jr.

[Photo: Lara Cerri, St. Petersburg Times]
Clean Water Network activist Linda Young walks through sparsely vegetated man-made marshes on Pensacola Beach that were supposed to mitigate the destruction of wetlands to build the Portofino condominiums, seen in the background
Fred and Allen Levin grew up on Pensacola Beach, where their father once
held the exclusive concession contract for selling snacks and souvenirs to the
tourists. Back then Pensacola Beach was a sleepy little resort village with scattered
mom-and-pop motels and lots of one-story concrete-block homes available
for rent by the week or month.

But the Levins’ minds were not fogged by nostalgia. They saw the beach
as a resource to be exploited. Still, they appreciated the role nature played in
making the property attractive to buyers. So they planned to preserve several
of the picturesque dunes as part of their project—but not the marshes that
were so important to the sound. Those did not fit the Levins’ aesthetic vision.
“When we did our development, we could not do a development on this
acreage without impacting some wetlands,” Allen Levin told us. They did not
want to shift their buildings around to keep the marshes intact, he said, “because
then the buildings would be right on top of each other, and we liked the

Of the 11 acres of marsh on the site, the Levins asked the Corps for a permit
to dump fill into 6.5 acres—in other words, more than half.

Other federal agencies lined up to oppose the Levins’ plans. The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service strongly objected to wiping out the marshes. So did the
EPA and the National Marine Fisheries Service. They all said those wetlands
were too important to keeping Santa Rosa Sound clean and full of fish.
Beach residents opposed the Levins’ project too. It was too big, too gaudy,
too vulnerable to hurricanes, they said. It didn’t fit their low-profile neighborhood
and would cause all kinds of traffic problems, they warned. A residents’
group even sued the developers over whether they could alter the land. Shortly
after the Corps published a public notice in 1998 about Portofino’s 404 application,
the residents petitioned the Corps to hold a public hearing.

“We kept writing, we kept calling,” recalled beach resident Jean Kuttina, who
led the neighborhood opposition. “We had several letters of objection, we had
the lawsuit going. None of it did any good.”

In 1999 an environmental activist named Linda Young, a Panhandle native
who headed up the Florida chapter of the Clean Water Network, persuaded a
top Pentagon official in the Clinton Administration to tour the site. She was
hoping to persuade him to block the project. She recalls Deputy Assistant Secretary
of the Army Michael Davis walking around the beach as she talked to
him. Then, she said, Davis told her, “This project does not need to happen.”

“He was adamantly opposed to it,” Young recalled. “But then he went back
to D.C. A few weeks went by, and I called him. And he said, ‘I can’t stop this
project. These people are too powerful.’”

Davis remembers the tour and remembers thinking Portofino was a bad
idea. But he denies telling Young the well-connected Levins were too powerful
to stop. “I would’ve never said those words,” he insisted. Instead, he said,
he probably made some comment about the permitting process being too far
along for even the Pentagon to halt it.

Allen Levin told the Pensacola News Journal that the last thing he wanted
to leave behind was a legacy of environmental destruction.

“Somebody would have to be a total jerk to want to hurt the environment,”
he said. “It doesn’t make sense. Good developers won’t do that. I really believe
in this project we are putting more back in than we are taking out.”

The Levins promised to build new man-made wetlands to replace the ones
they were destroying. The mitigation would make it all okay, they said. However
the wildlife service predicted the beach wetlands were just too delicate to
be duplicated. That’s why the agency urged the Corps to say no to the permit.

“We told them it would be almost impossible to mitigate,” said Hildreth
Cooper, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “We told them they should either
deny the permit or admit they can’t mitigate for it.”
Even trying to preserve some of the wetlands on the site wouldn’t work,
the wildlife agency predicted. Past attempts by beach developers to save a few
marshes while destroying others had cut off the flow of water, starving the
marshes that remained.

The Corps permit reviewer in the Pensacola office, a dutiful bureaucrat
named Lyal “Clif ” Payne, spent two years struggling to save the wetlands and
still make the developers happy. He didn’t want to approve the permit the way
it was, but he didn’t want to deny it either. So he kept suggesting changes that
might make the Levins’ project more palatable: Cut the number of buildings
back to three? Add even more mitigation? Nothing worked.

The developers weren’t too thrilled with even preserving some of the marsh
in its natural state, telling Payne at one point that the wetlands “would be managed
to remove the unsightly effect they have on (their) surroundings.”

Finally, frustrated with what he saw as Payne’s hemming and hawing, Allen
Levin had a heart-to-heart conversation with Payne’s bosses in Jacksonville.

“When it finally got to the very higher-ups, we were finally able to get some
relief,” he said.

Corps officials decided the agencies objecting to the project were off base,
and so in August 2000 they approved the permit. The Corps did order two
small marshes on the project site to be preserved. They allowed the rest to be
wiped out by the Levins’ condo project.

For mitigation, the Corps approved the creation of man-made wetlands on
county-owned land, along with a little something extra. In October 1995, when
Hurricane Opal made landfall at Pensacola Beach, the storm had knocked
down most of the big dunes and washed them across the island, leaving a thick
layer of sand across the property next door to Portofino. Requiring the Levins
to build their mitigation there would not only replace the natural marshes, the
Corps concluded. It would also result in all that sand being dug up and used to
rebuild the destroyed dunes, thus benefiting the whole island.

On the same day the Corps issued the permit, its top official in Florida, Col.
Joe Miller, notified all the residents who had asked for a public hearing that
there wouldn’t be one. The next day, Miller retired from the Army.

The Corps’ behavior left a bad taste in Kuttina’s mouth.

“They’re destructive people,” she said. “They’re not really going to save anything.”
By July 2004, when we toured the site with Linda Young, three of the towers
had been built and occupied and the other two were under construction. They
loomed above one-story houses next door. Sales were brisk, with some units
selling for more than $500,000.

But the man-made wetlands that the Levins had built looked nothing like
the lush natural ones they had wiped out. Most of the year they were bone dry,
until heavy rains hit. Then stagnant water puddled up two inches deep, the
surface broken every foot or so by a few strands of thin brown grass.

“There’s no way that mitigates for the adverse impacts that project is having,”
grumbled Young. She slipped off her shoes and splashed through the standing
water, then giggled and pointed out that the straggly sprigs of grass looked like
a bald man’s hair implants.

“It’s not exactly what you’d call thriving,” she said.

Two months later, something entirely predictable happened.

On September 16, 2004, Hurricane Ivan roared through the Panhandle. The
storm knocked down the dunes that Portofino had recreated, sweeping the
sand across the highway and deep into the lobby of the condos. The sand also
spread across the same areas of the beach that Opal had covered a decade
before. The thick layer of sand that Ivan dumped on the man-made marshes
smothered them. It was as if they had never been built.

Since the man-made wetlands were destroyed through a natural disaster,
the Corps would not make the Levins rebuild them, Payne told us. The failure
was not the Levins’ fault, he said. Actually, he explained, the Corps considered
it an act of God.

So to sum up: wetlands that were crucial to the health of Santa Rosa Sound
and its sea life were filled in and paved over because saving them didn’t fit the
plans of some powerful people. The federal agency that was supposed to save
them instead bent over backwards to aid their destruction. The developers’
attempt to make up for the damage failed, and their failure carried no consequences.

Yet in the Corps’ recordkeeping, the Portofino project was a success. There
was no net loss of wetlands.

What happened at Portofino illustrates both the myth of mitigation and its

On paper, filled-in wetlands are being replaced and everything balances out.
In reality, they are swept aside by the works of man and nothing makes up for
them. Development races across the land with all the speed and power of a
hurricane hitting a beach, and the attempts to replace what it destroys usually
result in expensive failures..."


The original plan called for 5 buildings, not 7. The wetlands and the Sugar Bowl are a distant memory.

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I find this wetland analysis silly. I have been coming to Navarre beach and Pensacola Beach since the sixties, and hurricanes and the build out in Navarre had far more damage than Portifino. The idea that Portofino has damaged the wetlands is absurd. Please drive to Navarre and see where dunes and wetlands once existed. They are all gone, and it has NOTHING to do with Portofino, and everything to do with two hurricanes back to back, and a bad one in 1995 in Opal which eliminated all dunes in Navarre. I am so tired of the Army Corps of Engineers and their random and arbitrary rulings on jurisdictional waters. Thank goodness Congress has addressed these abuses. You would have to be a blubbering idiot not to see what has caused environmental damage to the 13 miles between PB and Navarre Beach. It is the total destruction of the once pristine beach by government in the National Park Service building totally inadequate roads. A big fail by government, not a private developer. The criticism of the project in my mind has to do with out of area folks buying these beautiful condos. I would never buy one, but you can bet nobody in the family which used to have a concrete block ranch are not buying, and those same one story slums which should have never been built have filled the intercoastal with toxic debris, and you can bet these towers have not done the same.

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Floridatexan wrote:The original plan called for 5 buildings, not 7.  

Beg to differ.  I believe the original plan called for seven buildings.  This is the final phase. Will double check with someone I know who was pretty closely involved at the time, and get back to you.

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OK FT, my friend's lawyerly memory is fuzzy on this, but he indicates that you're probably technically correct in that the original suit involved five buildings, but he says there was at least one other, maybe two, additional buildings that were bandied about though not formally committed to at the time.
In last year's announcement of the final phase, Rinke specifically stated that this was always planned, but perhaps he was playing a little fast and loose with the facts. Wouldn't be the first time for him.

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10 Re: Portifino is going to add towers? on 4/14/2017, 6:53 am

It is such a joke that Portofino is responsible for environmental damage. All those single story ranches who ended up in the inter coastal with trash and pollution which will last a couple generations while people talk about the good old days when some idiots allowed concrete block single story structures pollute the waters and island. It is a joke for the park service to talk about cleaning up the now oreo covered dunes and island out of one side of their mouth, while just putting down new blacktop which already has points of crumbling because they refuse to spend the money to properly build a road which can withstand hurricanes and not pollute the island.

The attacks against Portifino are a moustache........they say environmental, but scream that they do not want foreigners on "their" beach. It is pure carpetbagging name calling where wealthy from all over America enjoy the beach in structures which will NOT end up in the inter coastal, and that argument about destroying wetlands.......anybody who has actually seen the dunes and wetlands knows the truth, and it sure as hell does not involve portofino. Just the opposite. A few forty story towers in Navarre and PB would be ten fold better than the sand chocking overbuilt single story housing which has absolutely chocked off the islands sand migration and destroyed any semblance of what once was. I remember almost fifty years ago a motel which was thirty feet in the air on top a dune in Navarre.......there have been NO dunes in Navarre since Opal. Portifino.....please tell the political truth of why they are being scapegoated.

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