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An Insulted Flagler Beach Commission Rebuffs Holmberg’s Plan and Wants Its Money Back

| February 15, 2013

They wanted to love him, but Dick Holmberg left Flagler Beach city commissioners only baffled. Again. And not in a very good way. (c FlaglerLive)

They wanted to love him, but Dick Holmberg left Flagler Beach city commissioners only baffled. Again. And not in a very good way. (c FlaglerLive)

Dick Holmberg delivered a breathless, rambling, emotional defense on Valentine’s Day of his plan to save the beach to a Flagler Beach City Commission heartbroken by his failure to prove his point in a meaningful way.

Holmberg, owner of Holmberg Technologies, is popular for his ideas, and championed by local residents, including the Save Flagler Beach non-profit group that was largely instrumental in bringing him to city officials’ attention. The County Council approved $50,000 for Holmberg to provide a “shoreline analysis” to implement his ideas–a plan to rebuild the beach’s sands and ward off erosion. The Flagler County Commission provided the money with tourism bed-tax dollars. But after Holmberg presented his analysis to the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening, commissioners said his work lacked the detail and proof  needed to request permits and grants.

Mayor Linda Provencher said she was insulted by Holmberg’s analysis. “You have wasted my time,” Provencher said sharply. She said Holmberg failed to give the city a report she could take to Tallahassee and sell the renourishment project. “Right now, I want my $50,000 back.”

“This was an analysis, it wasn’t a proposal,” Holmberg said as he’d begun his breathless, disorganized ramble. Holmberg defended his 44-page analysis, in which he asserted that dredging for jetties and harbors north and south of Flagler had damaged the beach. Those dredges dig holes in the ocean bottom that suck sand from offshore Flagler, sand that would otherwise come ashore here, but instead goes elsewhere, such as Brevard County, he said.

“Sand runs downhill,” he said. Dredging 50 or 100 miles away draws sand from the Flagler area, he said. Holmberg’s invention proposes to repair erosion of Flagler Beach’s coastline. His invention basically installs concrete-slurry-filled geotextile fabric tubes perpendicular to the shore on the ocean floor, extending out into the ocean. The technology is called “undercurrent stabilizers.” The “undercurrent stabilizers” slow down the current. “What happens when you slow the current down, it can’t carry the sand any more. It deposits it,” Holmberg said of the sand.

Holmberg is proposing two “undercurrent stabilizers” on the ocean floor opposite Flagler Beach for a cost of $10 million.

His wayward presentation–itself more rhetorically eroding than stabilizing–during which Holmberg was constantly reminded by city officials to speak into a microphone so a recording of the meeting could be made, was greeted with applause from an enthusiastic audience of 50 people hoping for an effective plan to save the beach. But city officials who must sell the plan to taxpayers and government agencies told Holmberg he missed the mark. And despite enthusiasm for Holmberg’s idea, most of the audience agreed with the City Commission.

His presentation was peppered with stories, such as his mother throwing him in the water to learn how to swim, his assertions of his theory about the movement of sand on the ocean floor and mentions of success with “undercurrent stabilizers” in Michigan and the Middle East.

“I think your system sounds like it would work,” City Commissioner Marshall Shupe said. “I know you passionately believe it will work. I want to believe it too, but I don’t think we can take this report and get some permits and money.” Shupe questioned the math in Holmberg’s analysis and noted that 20 pages of the 44-page report were pictures the City Commission had already seen. He said Holmberg failed to provide reasons why he selected the locations for the “undercurrent stabilizers.”

Holmberg bristled at the criticism. “I thought I explained it good,” he said. He added, none too gracefully: “I guess you didn’t read it well.” But Holmberg’s decorum has never been his strong suit. He insisted he was presenting the truth and told the City Commission to trust him. “Put me in charge and I’ll take care of it. That’s what I do.”

Commissioners wanted to trust Holmberg, but couldn’t.

“I think all of us wanted this to be the project that was going to work, to save our beach,” Commissioner Joy McGrew said. She said Holmberg’s report wasn’t good enough to proceed with the project and wasn’t worth $50,000. “The only thing we got different,” she continued, comparing the work to previously heard information from Holmberg, “”was three pictures from Google Earth that I could have downloaded myself.”

Kim Carney, city commissioner, said the disappointment with the analysis was “a lesson well learned.” The city should have been clearer about what it wanted for an analysis rather than allowing Holmberg to write the contract for the analysis.

“I was looking at this analysis as a way we could defend our decision to the experts,” Commissioner Steve Settle said. “I don’t think we’re able to do that with the analysis we’ve had.”

Settle also deflected criticism he said he received in e-mails from people telling the city wasted taxpayer dollars by spending $50,000 for Holmberg’s analysis. Settle said the money came from county bed tax dollars set aside for beach development. “It’s a bed tax,” he said. “It’s not tax money.” That drew a response from Hap Cameron, vice president and director of marine operations for S.E. Cline Construction. “I enjoyed that comment that it wasn’t taxpayer money. If it comes from tax coffers it’s tax money.”

Cameron is right in every objective sense, though county commissioners and members of the Flagler County Tourist Development Council often attempt to make a distinction between the “bed tax” (essentially, a 4 percent surtax on the existing sales tax) and other forms of taxation. The bed tax is levied on all hotel and motel; room charges and all local, short-term rentals of any sort. It is, of course, tax dollars, and public dollars, even though the larger majority of the dollars are generated from visitors. Local officials are right only in so far as the bed tax is distinct from property taxes.

Most of the residents who spoke liked Holmberg’s ideas, but agreed with the City Commission that the proof wasn’t in the slurry of his analysis.

“Perhaps this man’s project will work here, but his offensive manner in front of us today is deplorable,” said Helen Kramer.

Richard Morgan said the city needed a technical expert and marketing professional to make sense of the proposal.

Diane Cline said Holmberg’s analysis “was like throwing gel onto the wall. Some of it is going to stick.

Discussion and action on Holmberg’s proposal will continue at the Feb. 28 City Commission meeting.

Late in the Feb. 14 meeting, Commissioner Shupe said the contract with Holmberg required a suggested plan of action as part of the analysis he prepared. “I don’t believe, in my own mind, that we have plan of action. I would recommend the final payment of $5,000 to Mr. Holmberg does not occur,” Shupe said. Drew Smith, city attorney, said there might be a legal battle with Holmberg about the final payment. Commissioners ended by directing City Manager Bruce Campbell to contact Holmberg and demand a course of action to satisfy the City Commission.

The commission may have another problem on its hands: the Tourist Development Council money it got to fund the analysis wasn’t actually paid up: it is remitted only after the results of the analysis are produced, pending a satisfactorily fulfilled contract. That means the county may not pay up, and leave Flagler Beach liable for the $50,000.

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15 Responses for “An Insulted Flagler Beach Commission Rebuffs Holmberg’s Plan and Wants Its Money Back”

  1. Joe says:

    “It’s a bed tax,” he said. “It’s not tax money.” ROFLMAO !!!!

  2. Linda says:

    Did anyone vet ths man’s credentials and abilities before contracting him to undertake such a difficult (scientifically) plan? It does not appear so. This an appalling fiasco by all involved, not just Mr. Holmberg.

  3. P. Skelt says:

    I didn’t attend the presentation but it sounds like this is a man with a big idea but he may not be particularly suited for the political arena. That is okay – many of these “ideas” people are not and most savvy politicians and public administrators are not people with big ideas. It takes all kinds.

    At the end of the day, this remains an important issue for Flagler Beach so drop the petty, ego-massaging that typically goes on in these small town meetings, move past this apparently lackluster presentation, and provide this man with the support needed to get the analysis to the level desired. Keep your eyes on the end goal. There is plenty of blame to go around. If Flagler Beach would have had a staff of professional public administators, they would have already known that they needed to clearly define the deliverable they were expecting. This is something that college students learn in a textbook and ultimately, this responsibility falls on the City Manager. Politicians may love their high paid tap dancing City Managers but incompetence costs over and over again. Throw away this solution and you are back at the beginning. It’s your choice.

  4. DoubleGator says:

    We are all so desperate to save our beaches. We can be easy prey for “non-traditional” cures. We need good science and I’m not seeing it with this “just trust me”. Holmberg seems woefully short on examples of success. I have to believe that the Army Corps of Engineers will give us the straight answers we need.

  5. Jill says:

    If this wasn’t so laughable it would be criminal.

    Noun 1. con artist – a swindler who exploits the confidence of his victim, con man , confidence man, chiseler, chiseller , defrauder , grifter , scammer , swindler, gouge.

    I have a bridge to sell the Commission too. What’s next? Installing Parking Meters to scam Flagler County residents? Here’s my free Plan and advise – I won’t go near Flagler Beach if you go ahead with that idiotic Plan. No charge!

  6. Skeptic says:

    So whats the alternative ? The Army Corps of Engineers ? They’ve already demonstrated ( up and down the entire East Coast ) that they can’t defeat the Atlantic Ocean, and over the years they have completely screwed up the Mississippi River in the name of local pork barrel projects. All they can do is spend millions of taxpayer $$$ moving sand around in between Hurricanes and storms like the recent Sandy, and Mother Nature continues to move it back. The real solution in Flagler Beach is to reroute A1A on the South end of the town where the road is getting washed out and quit spending tax $$$ trying to do what simply can’t ever be done.

  7. tulip says:

    I didn’t see any beaches mentioned where Holmberg’s plan had actually been implemented and working. Did Holmberg work with any experienced engineers in this field?

  8. confidential says:

    I never seeing so many consultants at 75,000 a pop and higher and so many of them invited to waste our tax $$ in bogus plans and or “mirage” (yes like in gamblers paradise Vegas) projects. They are even invited on our pockets to tell us what the wealthy owners of supposed commercial parcels among our residences, have the right to build on them “after we will approve special exemptions”…and we have no right to contest! Meanwhile our local governments also pricey legal teams are no where to be seeing. What do we pay them for; to defend us or to defend the developers interest? Have those wealthy land owners pay for the pricey consultants, not us!
    These consultants invited here are due to the total ignorance of our elected officials of these subjects just the chance to and even the interest to sufficiently get proper inform before they would be pushed down their throats “the consultants” high paid advise! Because is not tax money in some cases, is just bed tax money…hello?
    11 million for this project..and 50,000 fee on advance…is just bed tax $$!. What the corps of engineers have to say about this?, they charge us also high fees for just an opinion or advise after all we are all tax payers. I did a little research, as I am not an elected official and do not have the time but found out Holmberg Technologies mentioned in some projects “supposedly that involved them” with the pictures before and after: http://www.oceanusinternacional.com/english/undercurrent_stabilizer.html
    Can someone visit a place and inspect a successful project of Mr.Holmberg? Do any of the adjacent beach areas to the stabilized projects get negatively affected after the system is installed? Where are we going to get 11 million in this pathetic economy, when even the Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic Beach NJ sold for mere 20 million? Isn’t Mr.Holmberg project maybe a little pricey?

  9. Mel Bronson says:

    I’ll give my considered opinion of the beach erosion situation for only $25,000!!!! That’s half what Dickie boy charged !

  10. jennah says:

    If our sands end up around Brevard beach, shouldn’t Duval and St. Johns sand end up here? I think the guy thought he was a shoe in and and under estimated the board.

  11. christina b says:

    I want to know how we ended up with Holmberg in the first place? That’s a simple question. Simply stating that he was “championed by local residents, including the Save The Beach” group, really, is wonderful, but what was the process to actually approve the tax money to pay him?

    On the other hand, I used to work for an “Idea Man”. And he had some great, great ideas–including the invention of some software that revolutionized a segment of the workforce’s ability to do their jobs–but to listen to him in a presentation wasn’t the easiest thing to do. He, too, came across as “rambling” and “disjointed” quite a bit, but he was still outstanding in his field.

    The money to pay Mr. Holmberg was committed and needs to be paid to him because he delivered an analysis. Whoever signed off on it without seeing if, for example, he had other analyses that would show he was experienced enough to deliver EXACTLY what the County and the City of Flagler Beach were paying for? Did the County and/or City make it clear in the approved documentation to solicit this information to Mr. Holmberg, up-front?

    And by the way, the City shouldn’t be left holding the bag completely if the County got the grant to begin with. That should come out of the paychecks of both County AND City Commissioners and other responsible parties until it’s all paid back–assuming they can’t actually USE the analysis they were given. This article doesn’t present the analysis itself, so readers are left to wonder what was actually in it. We only have the opinions of those who saw the presentation, and we all know that “politispeak” is pretty much the sole purview of elected and/or appointed “government officials”. Who knows exactly WHY they can’t actually “Take it to Tallahassee”? They didn’t say!

  12. glad fly says:

    and the city of drama just keeps on churning out more drama. stay tuned folks.

    • Linda Kasper says:

      Our commission has been working on this project for 9 years now at least. I’ve been keeping photos of the beach for 35 years. Yes the sand got pulled away, but after 9 years its back again, and we have a nice sandbar. Maybe instead of spending money on talking heads, we should just go walk on the beach we have at low tide and enjoy it and spend our money on advertising our town and putting more effort into the programs we have. Spend the money on buying vacant property for parking lots on A1A.

  13. Flaglerresident says:

    After reading this article and then going to the link posted above by confidential, there is some common sense with this type of beach redevelopment. However, if I were one of those elected officials doing my research on his company would have been paramount to this entire endeavor. You should not shun him in public, especially after reading his website. His website is written like a third grader complied the sentence structure. So what would you expect from his presentation to the public? Obviously he is not a good business person or speaking to the public.

    Now, with this being said, maybe his grammatical skills are not what his engineering skills are. But again, charging someone 10 million dollars a whack, you would think he could get someone to type complete sentences while describing what it is he is doing for a living.

    Common sense test: According to the pictures on his website and the explanation of what he is doing is plausible. I say this because the way dunes are rebuilt after hurricanes hit. Fences are placed on the beach, perpendicular to the beach and the sand utilizes these as build up occurs over the years. I personally have seen positive results with this type of beach re-development and you can personally see this in Tampa, Miami, and the Panhandle post hurricane. Now obviously this is wind driven not current driven, so maybe this is an entirely new animal, but I go back to the pictures of the beach redevelopment on his website, and if they are true, then this is very plausible. Now, one thing I did see from the beaches in the pictures is they were not straight coast line like our beach is, so what is the science here with that? Does it even matter, but for $50,000 dollars that should be explained.

    $50,000 dollar question: Everything I read from this article and reviewed from the meeting, and then further reviewed from his website might not total the amount he was paid. From the sole fact, all this information could have been obtained free of charge by a project manager from the same sources he utilized.

    I would anticipate some dialect from the City Manager (because it is his ultimate job to ensure this project is satisfied to its entirety) with Mr. Holmberg to ensure he revises a plan of action on our specific site, not generalized to what he has done in the past. When you have an open mind this is a pretty simple task to complete, but again, when you have an open mind is the biggest thing to remember with all of this. You have a starting point right now, you just need a little tweaking to complete this. Sometimes things are not taylor made and placed on a platter for you in life. This is understandable. The most successful people figure this out early and utilize the resources to ensure this task is completed for the residents who have property there!

    I see all of this falling back to the responsibility of the people who asked Mr. Holmberg to come in the first place. If you do not ask for it, then how are you going to get it? The City of Flagler Beach needs to issue a direct letter to Mr. Holmberg’s company explaining exactly what they want, if they have not already done so. Even if you think you have already done this in the initial request, do it again along with a deadline so this is not strung out over the course of a year and $50,000 dollars is a total waste of money. You people are not above helping this get done.

    Furthermore, if your going to spend $10,000,000 dollars on something, a project manager from the City has to be established, and then specific research on every single one of these current diversion devices that have been installed, need to be visited and also dialect with the authority where they have been installed to figure out what the pros and cons are with this type of project. For every action there are equal and opposite reactions. When they dredged the St. Augustine Inlet a couple years ago, the unintended consequences of this was Matanzas Inlet closed up along with another smaller navigable canal just south of the Inlet. What are the consequences of this entire endeavor?

    It should be the task of the City Council and City Manager to get this done for the people. It is not going to placed on a platter for you.

  14. Paul Medford says:

    A1A will be gone before this issue is ever acted upon.
    Better start planning the widening projects for Central and Daytona Aves. Make Central one way Northbound, and Daytona one way Southbound. Sort of like what Fort Lauderdale did.

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