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In Flagler Beach Again, Sen. Nelson Conveys Feds’ Message on Beach Fix: No Seawalls

| December 12, 2016

A jubilant Sen. Nelson announcing the news of the congressional authorization for renourishment of Flagler's beaches at the Flagler Beach Pier Monday, in front of, from left, Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur, and County Commissioners Dave Sullivan, Donald O'Brien and Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin. (© FlaglerLive)

A jubilant Sen. Nelson announcing the news of the congressional authorization for renourishment of Flagler’s beaches at the Flagler Beach Pier Monday, in front of, from left, Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur, and County Commissioners Dave Sullivan, Donald O’Brien and Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin. (© FlaglerLive)

Deep inside a $558 million federal water bill five years in the making and mostly devoted to California projects, on page 84, appears a chart with Flagler County’s name on it. Total projected funding for Flagler’s beach renourishment: $31.6 million. Even though only half of that would be federal money—the rest would have to be state and local dollars—it’s a long-awaited authorization, and the U.S. Senate voted to approve it at two minutes before 1 a.m. Saturday, by a 78-21 margin. The bill had passed the House two days earlier by a 360-61 vote.


Monday afternoon, Sen. Bill Nelson, was again at the Flagler Beach Pier to announce the victory to local county and city commissioners. Two months ago he’d stood on the same spot, promising to kick “posteriors” in his efforts to secure the money. The kicking worked, as the so-called Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

But Nelson had a message for local and state officials: the money could be in jeopardy if the Florida Department of Transportation were to build sea walls along the damaged portions of State Road A1A in Flagler Beach. Sea walls are not compatible with beach renourishment, the euphemism for dredging sand from the ocean floor, dumping it on the beach and rebuilding dunes as a means of “renourishing” what erosion and storms take away.

 “When I was here two months ago and we talked about this, you all wanted the beach renourished, not have a sea wall,” Nelson told a small group of elected officials this afternoon. “OK, so we got that in, the authorization is ready to go. The colonel, the Army Corps of Engineers Colonel, who I just got off the phone with, says: they’re ready to go, but if the state of Florida builds a sea wall to support the road, that messes up their cost-benefit ratio.”

Faith Al-Khatib, Flagler County’s chief engineer, was among the small group of people Nelson was addressing, shaking her head. “Your engineer is shaking her head so she knows what I’m talking about,” Nelson said. “And therefore they can’t do the beach renourishment. Well, we need beach renourishment for two reasons. First of all, to give the maximum protection to the road, and number two, to give you all your livelihood, the tourism industry, so that you’ve got a beach.”

Just before his appearance, Nelson had driven south along the portions of A1A that had been ravaged by Hurricane Matthew. The storm had sheared off about half the road along a 1.2-mile strip. An emergency project sped through by the Department of Transportation restored a temporary the road, reinforcing it with a slope of huge boulders. But that’s not going to be what it will look like in the long term. On Thursday, the transportation Department is hoisting an open house at Flagler Beach City Hall to unveil a series of proposals on how to permanently fix the road.

barbara revels, nelson

She hasn;t gone anywhere: Former County Commissioner Barbara, defeated on Nov. 8 but significantly instrumental in devising beach policy in her eight years on the commission, was among those greeting Nelson today at the pier. ‘We really appreciate all the heavy lifting you did,’ she told him. ‘Just fabulous. Thank you.’ (© FlaglerLive)

Some of those proposals include sea walls, which are dreaded and reviled in Flagler Beach: sea walls are good for protecting roads, but they’re terrible for beaches, as they speed up erosion and demolish beaches.

Referring to Col. Jason Kirk, Commander and District Engineer of the U.S. Army Corps in Jacksonville, Nelson said “he wants the state to make a decision and if they decide that they will, temporarily support the road with boulders and so forth, then we’ll try to speed up the Corps of Engineers’ project. Now, normally that would take a year, two years. We’ll try to speed that up. But he’s got to have a decision from the State of Florida before we can do that. So as you all are having your deliberations with the state, then if you would just share with them what you want.”

The water bill almost did not pass, Nelson said, describing the last-hour battle that unfolded between California’s two senators, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, as the bill is mostly a recalibration of water policy that will greatly affect California—and open the way to desalination projects there (a detail that will be of interest to Palm Coast, which had led an ill-fated regional desalination project for several years until 2011.)

Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom described the challenge as balancing the need for a strong road with the desires for a natural beach. He said the balancing act is a matter of all sides listening to each other. “DOT also has to listen to Federal Highway Administration, so there’ll have to be coordination on that,” Newsom said. “And I think everybody is looking for a joint understanding for how the project is going to go in. That meeting on the 15th we’re talking about all the different concepts.”

He said the state transportation department would have to compromise: “Hey, we’ll harden as much as we can but also make the Corps of Engineers satisfied.” Renourishment, he said, is an 11 to 15-year maintenance plan, meaning that more sand would have to be dumped every so often. That’s where the matching dollars for the $15.6 million federal authorization would come from: local and state sources.

But it also means that if a disaster were to hit the beach again, the Federal Emergency Management Administration would reimburse losses incurred by a federally engineered beach more than it would a state transportation department’s project.

“You have a roadway that’s basically next to a very beautiful but hostile environment at times,” Newsom said. “But I tell you, if the roadway didn’t do its job, potentially we’d have had more damage to the residents, so the dune structure and the roadway did its job. That’s a big thing, too.”

As is his habit, Newsom hung back from the pack of camera-seeking officials as Nelson spoke, preferring the humbler shade of the Flagler Beach Pier.

Months before the storm, County Administrator Craig Coffey had presented a plan to the county commission that had the county taking the lead on renourishment, at least with designing the project. At the time, there was still uncertainty about a federal appropriation. But the county, through Al-Khatib, had secured the necessary grants to at least pay for the design and get the project started. The storm changed funding availability, but the contract for the design can still be signed, Coffey said. It’s ready for a signature.

“It’s in a holding pattern,” Coffey said. “Basically what Col. Kirk form the Army Corps has told Sen. Nelson is exactly what they’ve told us: if you build the seawall, that’s out.”

The problem is that the project has changed scope, following Hurricane Matthew. And it’s no longer a 2.6-mile rebnourishment need, but about twice that: the entire length of Flagler County’s shore has been ravaged, with properties in jeopardy and dunes cut away.

“We have 5.3 miles that A1A is right on the ocean,” Coffey said. “I need $50 million to sand north of here, all the flooded neighborhoods that you’ve seen. We’re going to be asking for $83 million from the state and feds.”

Saturday’s federal appropriation, in other words, is a good chunk of sand, but it would only begin to address needs of Flagler County’s post-Matthew beaches.

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16 Responses for “In Flagler Beach Again, Sen. Nelson Conveys Feds’ Message on Beach Fix: No Seawalls”

  1. Mark says:

    So do beach refurbishment and after they pay up, put in seawalls. Then listen to them squeal.

  2. Dave says:

    The ocean will take what is hers, and always was hers, dredging only prolongs the problem. Flagler residents DO NOT wanting dredging in our waters, it is an unnatural solution.

  3. DaveT says:

    Well like everything in government, this will continue past the next hurricane season and nothing would have been done. The only thing that will be done, is more beach erosion and flooding in the neighborhoods all while the government to include the county, state and federal talk. A perfect example is the Malacompra Basin project which includes Marineland Arces, that still sets stagnant even after residents have been issued a special tax for the project for the 2107 season.

  4. Surgod88 says:

    Actually, Dave, you do not speak for all Flagler residents. This resident prefers the dredged sand approach over a sea wall. Now that being said, there are probably other solutions to consider. I was partial to the concrete tubes at right angles to the beach to form mini-jetties that utilize the dominant southward current to help deposit sand instead of whisk it away.

  5. JohnX says:

    Uh, building dunes OUTWARD into the ocean? Yeah that makes sense. What a waste of money. Will be gone quickly. Either relocate the road and businesses to build them INWARD or FUHGEDDABOUDIT and build a wall. or just repair every so often, either way.

  6. daveT says:

    @Surgod88 hey I never mentioned anything about a seawall read my post,. All I’m saying is Flagler County owes the people that live in the county that were and have been affected for years by flooding to fix the problem. Matthew just makes it more of a problem going forward.

  7. Fredrick says:

    Dave you don’t speak for us all……

    DaveT you are correct. This will get bounced around forever and take years to get taken care of…

  8. Sherry says:

    OK all. . . take note. . . we have 2 different Daves commenting here.

    I agree with Surgod88, not all residents are against dredging and refilling our eroded beach sand. Please be aware that the Army Corps of Engineers has completed a multi-year study on our situation here in Flagler Beach. Others have presented several options, as well. . . this issue has been studied and analyzed locally for over 10 years. There is no reason to try and reinvent the wheel at this point. . . especially by people with absolutely no expertise in the subject matter.

    One Common fact that has come out of all the analysis from all parties is that Sea Walls absolutely SPEED EROSION! Therefore, Sea Walls are NOT the answer!

    Those who advocate doing nothing and letting the ocean reclaim this barrier island. . . obviously you don’t live or have a business here. Therefore, your opinion is inappropriate. It does make one wonder whether you can sleep at night . . . with so much anger toward your fellow human beings inside. I am guessing you sleep well. . . how incredibly sad for the evolution of our species.

    Dredging and refilling the sand on our beach may not be the perfect solution. . . but it certainly is better than doing nothing or building a sea wall.

  9. Dave says:

    Let the Ocean reclaim what is hers. Goodbye A1A as we know it, change is not always bad and how selfish is it of you to feel as if you have some kind of land right over this beautiful earth, I actually do own property in Flagler. You shouldn’t fight what’s natural, I will sleep well tonight knowing we are powerless to Mother Nature, and she will always try and do the right thing.

  10. Fredrick says:

    Dave… based on your last comment we should let naturally caused forest fires burn. We should have just let the entire county burn back in 1998, including your property, home, trailer, shed, maybe tent…. Let mother nature claim what is hers. It’s purely natural for fires to reclaim forests…. Mother nature will always try to do the right thing as you say. We are powerless against her….

  11. Jace4fla says:

    Jettys! Jettys! Jettys!

  12. Dave says:

    Freddrick, Let it burn or stay and try to save it, build again if needed. Fire isn’t a good comparison for your argument.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I still don’t understand why they don’t just build entries. It works for beaches up north and it has a natural look. The article said it even deposits additional sand. Fix the dunes and add entries.

  14. Sherry says:

    I am guessing that those who think “nature” should rule. . . have no problem with humans spewing fossil fueled pollution into mother nature’s clean air. Maybe even a “climate change denier” who picks and chooses which side to be on according to his own selfish interests. . . A hypocrite?. . . You bet ya!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I think the project is great, and I’m glad all the money isn’t going to California (most is). I also want to thank Sen Nelson for his help, it’s a shame he didn’t run for President.

  16. JohnX says:

    oh yeah i forgot about the turtles. Can’t have seawalls. Have to build up sand for their nests. Seriously. So yeah seawalls are out. But i still think they should move the road inward and build the dunes inward so they last.

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