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In Flagler Beach, Questions, Ridicule and Anger in Search for Beach-Saving Answers

| September 20, 2011

Some 110 people turned up for the latest Flagler Beach town hall on saving the beach. (FlaglerLive)

Woody Allen would have called it “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Beach Erosion But Were Afraid To Hear,” though Flagler Beach’s three-hour town meeting on the town’s most critical asset had no one laughing. The beach, after all, is diminishing by most measures. And the town has been debating this very issue for years, without a viable proposal yet in sight (at least not one government agencies are willing to execute and pay for), let alone a permanent solution.

Nor was one with any chance of winning broad agreement presented Tuesday evening as 110-odd people at the Disabled American Veterans building heard six presentations that restated what’s been stated before, numerous time: there is no single solution to beach erosion. There are no guaranteed solutions, either, even when they’re implemented. Most experiments don’t yield the results hoped for. It takes more than an innovative idea to get it implemented. And even when an idea is accepted, or permitted, its implementation takes time, it’s expensive, and sources of money uncertain.
“We have issues here and they should have been taken care of five and 10 years ago when we had meetings like this.” Jamie NeJam said, ridiculing the very government agencies he was addressing after they’d made their presentations. “Most people in order to get things done they go out and do it.”

The four government agencies represented around the table, not including Flagler Beach City Commissioner Steve Settle, who chaired the meeting, took something of a beating once the question and answer period opened as residents vented against beach renourishment, seawalls, rock revetments, dredging, and lengthy, costly feasibility studies. The U.S. Corps of Engineers took the brunt of the beating because of its permitting and feasibility timetables (four to seven years just for the typical study), leading Jackie Keiser of the corps finally to plead: “We’re not here to destroy the environment, the beaches or anything else. The people in these jobs, we want to help you.” She urged those who’d spoken angrily to “please use that anger as passion” toward common solutions.

Florida has no beach-saving department. It has several agencies with a vested interest in what happens to the beach, but those are competing interests which end up complicating the search for a solution, if not intensifying the problem. Four of those agencies made presentations to the assembly Tuesday, each illustrating its mission and, implicitly at least, conceding that those missions sometimes undercut each other: the Corps might permit something only to be stalled or halted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The Florida Department of Transportation wants to protect the beach, but only to the extent that it protects its roads (namely, State Road A1A), even if the solution will actually accelerate erosion, as seawalls usually do. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is concerned with preserving the beach to the extent that it saves sea turtles. It has no broader powers.

Studies cost money. Flagler County is partially paying for a feasibility study for beach preservation, through bed tax dollars, but in conjunction with state dollars that may soon run out because Gov. Rick Scott is opposed to beach initiatives that involve renourishment. He is squarely on DOT’s side: seawalls to preserve roads, or moving the roads.
“If we remove the rocks tomorrow, you will have no A1A,” the DOT’s Alan Hyman said in answer to a common complaint about Flagler Beach’s dreaded granite rocks, dumped along portions of beach after severe erosion events several years ago.

Dick Holmberg of Holmberg Technologies presented his system of underwater, sand-filled tubes that serve as beach rebuilders as a ready solution that could be installed on about three miles of beach and cost around $4.5 million (the price tag for a similar project in Saudi Arabia). Holmberg has a following in Flagler Beach, but has received little support from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which would have to permit the project. Corps representatives were at the meeting. They said they’ve worked with Holmberg but asked for information that he did not provide, and so have not moved further in studying his technology’s viability locally. (Holmberg disputes the corps’ claim.)

The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. It ended at 9 p.m. By then more than half the room had emptied. Jane Mealy, the Flagler Beach city commissioner, had wanted to hear more alternatives than those presented. Only two of four “alternate solutions presentations” (as they were billed on the agenda) were actually presented. Two others were scheduled, but their presenters didn’t show. Mealy said she’d have to hear from them before talking decisions. “The government agencies didn’t say anything I haven’t heard before,” she said.

The meeting had drawn representatives from every local government (including Palm Coast Mayor Jon nets, who serves on the Florida Inland Navigation District) except Bunnell and the school board. Barbara Revels, the county commissioner, had the final word at the podium. She advocated for a beach management plan and urged the assembly to “keep the pressure on our state and our federal agencies to continue to fast-forward our projects.” Particularly when Flagler County may be left holding the funding bag.

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5 Responses for “In Flagler Beach, Questions, Ridicule and Anger in Search for Beach-Saving Answers”

  1. beachbum says:

    Just a couple of points on your reporting about Holmberg:

    [1] The tubes are filled with a special concrete, not sand. They will not move with ocean currents or storms.

    [2] The reason Holmberg receives “little support” from the US Army Corps is because they know full well that his system will make a huge dent in their operations and in the profits of their dredging buddies by eliminating the need to constantly replace sand on beaches that are treated with his system. Once Holmberg’s success in Florida is documented, heads will turn and ask: “Why are we spending all these taxpayer dollars on unnecessary dredging?”

  2. J NeJame says:

    The meeting was very interesting to view. The “government”; ACOE had two representatives, FDOT had two representatives, FWC had two representatives, FDEP had two representatives for a 15 min. presentation each. The business sector had one person each to make a 15 min. presentation each. This shows me that the public sector is twice as efficient as the government.
    I also noticed that post meeting all the government people spoke among themselves; I saw none go to any of the Alternate Solutions Presenters and offer a personal invitation to work together or offer any solutions to move through the system with more ease. Thus, they do not want to help Flagler Beach’s Beach or the environment for the turtles and coastal life.
    I suggest and urge the citizens to continually contact your elected officials demanding to act now and to work with the public sector and save money, our beaches and the environment.

  3. The Wave Whisperer says:

    Just a quick correction—Holmberg Technology’s Undercurrent Stabilizers are filled with
    a concrete mixture, not sand. He says concrete is much more difficult to work with, but
    holds its form better, and is more durable and less vulnerable, than sand.

    And, FYI, the “information he did not provide” involved proprietary information and trade
    secrets Mr. Holmberg did not wish to divulge about the design of his systems. He says he did send an entire package of information regarding several installations, including follow-up monitoring studies
    by universities.

    It’s interesting that the main objection to using these sand collecting devices is that “there’s no sand in the shore system.” This is what Mr. Holmberg was told by engineers in Saudi Arabia and many other places; in every case, the sand came pouring in, delivered like a gift from the sea.

    What we at would like to know is why the Corps just doesn’t send a
    small delegation to Michigan or Ras Tanura to ask questions and see for themselves how
    successful the Holmberg systems have been over the years. There are a few coastal engineers
    with excellent credentials who can attest to their efficacy.

  4. RR says:

    I’ve seen Mr. Holmberg’s technology and firmly believe it is effective. The Corps should really listen to the local citizens who are pushing to save the beach now!

  5. Diane Cline says:

    I thought it was a very good idea to have the different governemnt agencies involved as well as the private sector with this workshop, and, I came with an open mind on the subject. After much consideration I propose another alternative solution. Use the north – south current and design a structure to be multi-purpose at the same time. A hydroelectric pedestrian friendly pier with movable parts stationed under water. I stress movable because I was very concerned when Mr. Holmberg stated he did not know how soon or much sand his tubes would generate with his Saudi project. Furthermore, I am concerned that the dynamics of a lake or bay can vary drastically from the ever changing and potentially violent ocean we share space with. An adjustable pier wins on all fronts: resident and tourist friendly, fish and game supportive, could widen the beach thereby saving the road, and when conditions change it could be altered to accomodate.

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