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Seawall Soul-Searching and Yet More Muddles Over Alternatives in Flagler Beach

| October 14, 2011

Even the seawall can't see straight on its future. (© FlaglerLive)

Don’t expect immediate repairs or life extensions on Flagler Beach’s seawall along South 13th Street. That much is clear, based on a vote of the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening. For now. The rest gets complicated.

It’s not always clear what the commission is talking about when discussing beach-saving and seawall matters, though that’s generally true of every agency involved in possibly the most divisive issue in Flagler Beach these days. Especially when various beach-saving issues, from dumping sand on the beach to building or extending seawalls to other alternatives all get discussed at the same time, as they were Thursday evening, as they have been for months and years, without adding clarity.

The commission debated the matter of the state Department of Transportation’s seawalls along State Road A1A, namely an extension of the life of the existing seawall along 13th Street South, at a cost of nearly $400,000. The seawall is projected to have a life-span of 13 more years without additional work, which would add 50 years to the seawall’s life.

The question, which several people asked before commissioners Thursday, was: why spend that money to extend the life of a wall that may not be necessary in that much of a long run, if an alternative could work better? That presumed alternative is the undertow–and antithesis–of all discussions about saving the beach at this point, and it has a name: Holmberg Industries, a beach-saving technology that has not been used in the United States, except in the Great Lakes, where the setting doesn’t have much to do with the Atlantic, though the technology has been used in Saudi Arabia, reportedly with success: it rebuilt a beach. Government agencies, including, so far, a slight majority of the commission, aren’t interested in Holmberg, named after the company’s fiery founder. Holmberg has a fierce following among some Flagler Beach residents.

The city isn’t ready to name its alternative plan. It was uncomfortable about turning down seawall money outright.

“I can’t see spending that type of money and burying it in the sand,” Commissioner Marshal Shupe said. The city has lived with the seawall long enough, it can live with it a little longer. But he didn’t want to see the money disappear—which it would, if DOT doesn’t use it on the wall.

“We are most comfortable with waiting,” a DOT official told commissioners. “It’s up to you.” But he clarified: the money isn’t guaranteed to be there in the far future, but waiting six months would not be a problem.

“Do you absolutely guarantee that seawall is going to hold up that road for 13 years?” Commissioner Jane Mealy asked.

“That’s our best estimate,” the DOT official said.

She asked whether, if a huge washout were to take place, DOT would repair the wall anyway, if the money was there or not. The answer was, more or less, yes.

“If there’s ever any question why things take so long, unfortunately this is a prime example of that,” Commission Chairman John Feind said.  “We said two months ago we wanted the unsightliness repaired, part of the quality of life, economic development.” FDOT complied, gave the city some options, including a nearly-$400,000 plan to “fix” the existing seawall on 13th Street, to make it less unsightly, through so-called “encapsulation” (think of covering up concrete and steel the way you might cap a tooth).  That drew opposition from people who thought investing more in the seawall meant enshrining it as the principal solution to beach erosion.

“The seawall is there, it’s not going to go away, that’s true, but I don’t see why we should ignore it,” Feind said. Commissioner Jane Mealy doesn’t think the seawall will survive 13 years, given the ferocity of recent storms, including this past weekend’s. But Commissioner Kim Carney couldn’t see how adding concrete or rocks improved the sightliness of the wall. “This just seems like it’s really a lot more money than I ever thought it would cost,” she said, while extending its life beyond 50 years was beyond the scope of what the commission had in mind. “It’s not going to add to the beauty of our beach. Sand will add to the beauty of our beach.”

When Commissioner Steve Settle motioned to table the matter of spending money on the existing seawall—pending DOT’s signal that it would eliminate the $4000,000—it passed 4-1, with Feind in dissent.

That wasn’t the entire beach-related discussion Thursday.

The first beach-related item on the commission’s agenda was also confusing. The U.S. Corps of Engineers is doing a long-term study on the feasibility of dumping sand along the beaches in order to “re-nourish” them. The study may not be completed until 2017. Flagler Beach’s lobbyist is recommending that the city involve an agency called PCX (for Coastal Planning Center of Expertise) in the study. The agency is connected to the corps and is based in Brooklyn, N.Y. The corps claims PCX’s involvement would speed things up. But information about the company is scant, and its involvement depends on the county—which is the main sponsor of the beach study—not Flagler Beach. The question was whether the Flagler Beach City Commission should be behind PCX’s involvement, assuming the county would endorse it as well.

Commissioners agreed, 3-2, to send a letter of support for PCX—to the county. The vote was more indicative of what would happen to PCX than of the dynamics regarding beach-saving issues on the commission.

Commissioners Settle and Carney were opposed. “I just feel like we’re circumventing the county with a letter from Flagler Beach,” Carney said. “Can’t we just hold off and see what the county wants to do with this recommendation?”  Settle wanted it more explicitly stated that the PCX involvement should have little to do with Flagler Beach’s priorities on saving its beach, other than as a back-up plan. Settle wanted to open the way for alternative beach-saving measures. He didn’t name Holmberg Industries, though that undertow was part of that discussion, too.

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7 Responses for “Seawall Soul-Searching and Yet More Muddles Over Alternatives in Flagler Beach”

  1. Bigfoot says:

    The additional plans will just join about $ 2,000,000. of old plans paid with a lot of Flagler Beach money gathering dust.

  2. Art Woosley says:

    Not pretending to be an engineer, but one should assume that the current wall can stand for at least another ten years even during heavy storm conditions. Problem with this particular section of wall is this, if we have a major tidal surge, the water will hit the wall and then more than likely seek the easiest route around it, which of course would be the ends.

    As for looks that is another question, maybe our commission might want to consider something more fitting for our beautiful beach environment, let’s say some real heavy duty marine lumber similar to but larger than pier timbers.

    Heavy duty marine lumber (pilings or square timbers etc.) would add needed strength, and also cover the unsightliness of rusting metal, timber would be much more visually appealing to most beach visitors than plain concrete.

    If those timbers were properly anchored against the current wall, and then tied in say ten to fifteen feet below the sand it will add additional strength, such a surface would not be so easy to place graffiti on, and should prove less costly in the long run, just a thought

  3. JonQPublik says:

    It’s merely a suggestion, and I cannot say that my recommendation is one based with a superior knowledge of such things, but perhaps an artificial reef could help in the future.

    The only substantially negative environmental impact (that could change, keep in mind), would be the Osborne Reef, but that’s mainly due to it’s construction materials. Should it be considered a viable alternative, someone should contact the right people (!!!) in the communities where artificial reefs are already in place. OH and be sure to ask about the impact on the coastline as well, since this is the main concern. Also, stay informed about such things over the next few years regarding those existing structures.

    Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, keep it an environmental concern, NOT an economic one. I know some people might read the wiki article and see dollar signs with potential increase of sealife. Please, let’s not do that. Make it a restricted area to fishing.

  4. Kip Durocher says:

    Just an after thought, but maybe someone of the fine governmental minds we have should contact several of the other 40 or 50 towns up and down both coasts of Florida who have dealt with this problem since before Flagler Beach and Flagler County were chartered. Might get some free ideas.
    Must we always attempt to reinvent the wheel?
    Our lobbyist recommends another lobbyist, ” information about the company is scant” get involved also. Red Flag anyone?
    They don’t seem to be connected here?

    American Shore & Beach Preservation Association formed in 1936
    But everyone in the coastal renourishment business in America does.

  5. The Wave Whisperer says:

    To say the Great Lakes “setting doesn’t have much to do with the Atlantic,” is to oversimplify to the point of being misleading. Dick Holmberg, inventor of Undercurrent Stabilizers, has answered again and again the question of whether they’ll work on Atlantic coastlines if they’ve been installed only along Lake Michigan shores. He explains that fresh water shorelines are far more difficult to resurrect because of the lack of buoyancy of the sand-carrying water and other factors that act against sand accretion. Yet he has rebuilt nearly 100 lakeshore beaches in addition to his triumph over the many naysayers in Saudi Arabia. He assures us he can do the same for Flagler’s Beach.

  6. Jackie Mulligan says:

    Thank you Wave whisperer,

    I think the people who compare the Atlantic to a lake, have never seen Lake Michigan.

    I suggest they go there and compare, especially in the winter, when it is roaring and can have Ice floes.

    One can see by the pictures of the lake erosion that the same thing happens there as happens here, this is NOT a Florida lake.
    Please go to Google map and see what has happened there. Mr. Holmberg certainly cannot manipulate Google map as some people have alluded to with his pictures.
    Mr Holmberg stated that since the Atlantic is salt water and therefor more buoyant than the fresh water of Lake Michigan that his technology will work even better.
    What do we have to lose?,We already know that the dredging and dumping is not a real solution to erosion, it is a short term fix, and must be repeated and repeated..
    Majority of the monies for dredging and dumping is Federal and the rest is State and local, Is this the way you like to see your money spent?
    Yes, these are YOUR tax dollars, would you spend this way in your own budget, have someone do a job for you and tell you that in 5 -7 years he will be back to redo it?
    I think not.
    Please get involved , call your elected officials on ALL levels of government and tell them to stop the wasteful spending, try an alternative method!

    Thank you
    Jackie Mulligan
    For more information about the alternative method of Holmberg Tecnology, please visit our website

  7. Bob Runner says:

    Regarding the PCX- The PCX are the high ranking experts within the Army Corps of Engineers charged with providing oversight and recommendations to the regional Army Corps offices. They are not an individual company or a lobbyist. Federal laws and regulations prohibit the PCX from becoming involved with a beach study without the approval of the communities where the study is taking place.

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