Talk about shifting sands.
County Administrator Craig Coffey was barely done updating county commissioners Monday on the $22 million dollars it’ll take to rebuild and strengthen beaches and dunes in the wake of Hurricane Matthew when the skies opened up Tuesday morning. The storm dumped 1.75 inches of rain in a matter of hours on Flagler Beach, turning parts of State Road A1A into a small river and digging washouts at several spots along the dunes, some of them just rebuilt at the south end of town.
The most serious washout was at South 20th Street opposite Martin’s Steakhouse, where rivulets dug a chasm in the sand beneath a walkover, turning it into a small canyon past the asphalt. That area of A1A is at the southern tail end of the state Department of Transportation’s recent emergency repair project, which restored a temporary road where Matthew had devoured a third to half of A1A, and the dunes that had protected it.
Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom, who surveyed the scene, said there were washouts also at South 13th and South 19th Street. At the north end, there was damage at North 20th and North 23rd Street. Most of the damage was quickly filled in by Department of Transportation crews.
There’s an explanation for the damage: as the water flowed along A1A, Newsom said, it sought any points of weakness along the way to dump into the ocean, and did at those various points, which had been damaged during Matthew. The fact that the washouts occurred isn’t an indication of bad emergency repairs, but rather explains what happens with such temporary repairs: “They don’t have a lot of vegetation to stabilize the dune,” Newsom said, and adding vegetation now, when the whole segment of dunes is to be again rebuilt in about 18 months, would not make a lot of sense.
But state transportation officials, who spent $4.5 million on the emergency repair of A1A, don’t want to see that project wasted, either.
“DOT is going to be Johnny on the spot because they don’t want to lose their investment,” Newsom said.
The city manager had two additional explanations for the damage, and one of them will not please would-be rock sculptors along A1A: those multiplying rock formations you see along the temporary rock works at the south end of town are not helping keeping the rocky slope in place, Newsom said.
“One of the washouts was sitting right next to where those statures were built,” he said, “and you could clearly see that’s where the rocks used to be. Now all the washouts weren’t caused by that.”
Another reason for the possibly weakened temporary dunes is the lack of walkovers, which has pushed many people to go down to the beach by crossing over the dunes or rock revetments, especially between 13th and 18th streets south, and between 20 and 23rd on the north end. Newsom is in discussions to possibly build four walkovers (two at each end) to reduce that problem. But he’s in a dilemma. He doesn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on walkovers that will have to be demolished once the transportation department begins work on the permanent reconstruction of the road and the dunes in 2018.
News of the washout disseminated quickly after photographer and weather spotter Ed Siarkowicz posted photographs on his Facebook page. Siarkowicz volunteers with Flagler County Assist React and hosts the Scud Buster Diaries, a television show on storm-chasing with Carlos Hernandez on the county channel: storm-chasing is one of the services he provides for the county’s emergency management and the Jacksonville station of the National Weather Service (form whom large swaths of Flagler are essentially under the weather radar, so those parts depend on weather-spotters’ reports to fill in gaps).
“I was out and about tracking some of the storms and reporting on them,” Siarkowicz said. The damage became part of his report, which he sent Bob Pickering, the weather guru at Flagler Emergency Management. (Coincidentally, the next episode of Scud Buster Diaries will focus on dune fragility, and how residents and visitors can be better stewards.)
Newsom said all the washouts have been repaired, the transportation department having a game plan at the ready. The storm’s effects and the temporary nature of the dunes suggests that future washouts are possible, depending on the severity of storms.
But for county officials, the damage on Tuesday came from an unexpected direction. County officials have been fearing dune breaches caused by tides and the ocean, pushing through the vanished space once occupied by a dozen feet of dunes, and further eroding what thin membrane-like is left of existing dunes.
The county has broken down the coast into six projects, including Flagler Beach. Those projects don’t include the transportation department’s reconstruction of A1A next year. The county is managing the reconstruction of dunes and sea walls, with some of those projects to be privately financed with special taxing districts affecting only certain property owners. The county will then turn over maintenance of some of the projects either to private property owners or to Flagler Beach, depending on the geography, while of course continuing to maintain dunes in its own areas.
The county’s draft plan is below.