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Rosy Disconnect Between District’s Wetlands Project and Opposition in Flagler Beach

| November 13, 2018

In the first pew from right, John Miklos, chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District Board, and fellow board member Chuck Drake, second from right, were in attendance last week at a public meeting in Flagler Beach on a planned wetlands restoration project at the sough end of town. (© FlaglerLive)

In the first pew from right, John Miklos, chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District Board, and fellow board member Chuck Drake, second from right, were in attendance last week at a public meeting in Flagler Beach on a planned wetlands restoration project at the sough end of town. (© FlaglerLive)

Meeting this morning in Palatka, the St. Johns River Water Management District congratulated itself for the way it has been “engaging” with the public in Flagler Beach and Flagler County regarding a planned wetlands restoration project in Flagler Beach. Its own officials hailed their staffers’ “professionalism,” how the public “really appreciated” the district’s way of reaching out to “stakeholders,” and how the latest public meeting on the issue proved to be a “positive exchange.”

But district officials seemed to be presenting an alt version of a project that has provoked more controversy, opposition and distrust that not.

A presentation to a district board committee intended as an update on the project this morning, by Erich Marzolf, director of the district’s division of water and land resources, focused on the district’s efforts and process, and largely papered any suggestion of deep divisions or opposition. The district’s interpretation suggests that while it is going through the motions of engaging with the opposition, there’s little doubt that project itself will proceed.

The water management district is planning a $516,000 “restoration” of some 113 acres of wetlands along the Intracoastal south of Flagler Beach by demolishing marsh piles built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more than half a century ago in an ill-fated attempt at reengineering the area to suppress the mosquito population. The reengineering in fact helped demolish wetlands, which the district now wants to restore. It has done so on hundreds of acres elsewhere.

But in Flagler Beach, the community east of John Anderson Highway–always an environmentally and politically potent force in the county, most recently managing to stop a planned emergency cell tower in the area–has rallied mostly in opposition to the project, claiming it has not been researched enough or proven to be needed. Residents fear the effects on their property and fishermen fear the effect on their catch. But others in the region have also embraced the project, seeing it as an important and necessary way to bring back wetlands and slow erosion.

On Sept. 11 the water management board voted to approve the $516,000 contract but to delay a notice to proceed pending further interaction with opponents, through two public meetings and written exchanges, and through discussions with local governments, through neither the Flagler County Commission nor the Flagler Beach City Commission had been involved more than to the extent that they heard constituents’ reactions about the project. Neither government is much interested in alienating the district, whose grants they seek.

Opponents have focused their energy on two public meetings held since, and in written campaigns. The first public meeting was actually an open house, with no formal presentation or question-and-answer period, and it was held at Flagler Beach City Hall. Quarters were cramped and many of those who went left dissatisfied. The district moved the next meeting to the far roomier Santa Maria del Mar Church, brought in a moderator, held a long Q&A, then opened the floor to public comment. That’s when a solid majority (but not a totality) of the 15-odd people who spoke voiced strong opposition from a range of perspectives.

And that’s what Marzolf, who was at the meeting, avoided speaking of to the district panel this morning, hewing almost exclusively to procedures in the past few weeks than to substantive issues that have divided the two sides.

“We have been very busy addressing questions that we received from the dedicated email address, from emails directly to staff, we’ve been meeting with local government officials, taking them on tours,” Marzolf told members of the district’s Lands and Natural Systems Committee, which met today before the full meeting of the district board.

He spoke of how the nearby state park will allow the use of local vegetation to “revegetate” the new wetlands, of concerns with DDT, turbidity barriers and oyster reefs, all of which, he said, are being addressed. “This is another area where we welcome participation by stakeholders, if they know of a reef,” Marzolf said. He summarized what had been presented to the public last week, including a new map showing the project moving some distance further away from private properties, to ease residents’ fears about the project’s impact.

He briefly spoke of the Q&A taking “maybe two thirds” of the meeting’s time, and said: “We were very happy to see board members in attendance,” naming Board Chairman John Miklos, Alan Roberts and Chuck Drake. “The last portion of the meeting was a public comment session, so the public was able to make whatever comments they felt. I will say, after the meeting, we stayed around for probably another hour, both inside and outside the church, talking with folks, answering questions, discussing various issues, and that completes my update for this month.”

That was it. Marzolf never once sought to speak of the tenor or depth of the opposition.

A couple of board members spoke. “The public really appreciated the new venue, they really appreciated the board being represented by the chairman and Chuck, and it was well received by everyone,” Roberts, who was at the church, said, though while members of the public did speak appreciatively of the venue, the presence of board members was not especially remarked. “Not sure that we changed any minds, but it was appreciated and it was really a move in the right direction,” Roberts said.

“This is the way we should do business, it may not always change minds but at least they see the professionalism in the way we go about our business,” Doug Burnett, who chairs the committee, said. “This is the kind of process that keeps the ripples off the pond with the leadership in Tallahassee, and same in the press. They see how we do business. We don’t get a goose egg when we give it our best effort.”

Board member Janet Price said she hadn’t been at the church but had watched the video of the meeting, describing what she saw as a “positive exchange.”
The discordance of the board members’ interpretation of the Santa Maria del Mar meeting was underscored when the district moved to its full meeting and two people addressed the full board on the issue during the public comment segment.

“You have zero science to back up the rationale for this project,” Betty Ledyard told the board. “You have no compassion for the financial hardships and losses this invasive degradation will create. You are ignoring sea level rise, and in the coming years the marsh will be swamped and the minimal benefits gained will be lost. You have even recognized this fact. You do not have a clearly defined monitoring program.”

Ledyard and her husband Cass, who also addressed the board, own a 26-acre property that stretches north to south along the marsh on the west side of the Intracoastal, parallel to John Anderson Highway. She went on: “You have been an absolute bully, you have not listened to the massive outcry. Individually I’m sure you’re all wonderful people, but individually on this project you have lied to us on multiple occasions.”

Board members did not address the issue when the full board was in session.

Unlike the Sept. 11 meeting, when the wetlands restoration project was up for approval and a dozen people addressed the board, today’s meeting did not draw that sort of attendance, though the board’s decision on issuing a notice to proceed was not on the agenda, either. Based on Marzolf’s update and board members’ interpretation of the issue, that step is likely just a question of time.

11 Responses for “Rosy Disconnect Between District’s Wetlands Project and Opposition in Flagler Beach”

  1. Edman says:

    Glacier melting has not been studied in this specific area either… the science behind marsh restoration does not need to study this specific acreage to know the benefits of true marshland as opposed to mosquito ditches. In the 50s and 60s there were no hearings or science to determine if ditching was a good idea. It was done with only a “hope” of success. The proposed project today has good science to back it up and the staff has tried their best to accommodate the protestors. Let’s return this area to it’s natural status and give Mother Nature a chance to heal itself.

  2. Ptctrader says:

    I love on the river across from this disaster plan. NO ONE ON OUR STREET/ ON OUR SIDE OF THE INTRACOASTAL, WANTS THIS PROJECT. IT IS NOT BROKEN. DO. NOT FIX IT!!!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Based on documentation from Andre Clewell ( “As with everything else in ecological restoration, the answer is site specific; there is no rule or recipe that fits all sites.” “Management actions that cause ecological damage do not qualify as restoration. Unfortunately, restoration is applied inappropriately to projects that sacrifice biodiversity and impair ecological functions to accomplish single-species management or to attain economic objectives. Restoration projects can accommodate particular species and can satisfy economic objectives as long as ecosystem integrity is not compromised.”
    The USACE developed the dragline ditches back in the 50s in a “hope” that it would work and the well-meaning SJRWMD team is doing the restoration attempts in a “hope” that they work in reverse. Time will truly tell.
    As far as science goes, to prove any project a success or failure, proper study and research should to be done in that specific area before and after using set, standard protocols consistently. Where is the documentation from previous project sites showing water quality (pre and post), fish counts specific to the project area (pre and post), mosquito control documentation (pre and post)? Mother Nature took over 70 years to get us to where we are today and she did a fine job creating this unique ecosystem. Any attempt to return this area back to what it was before would be futile unless we are willing to return the ICW back to what it was before it was turned into one large “ditch”.
    Here is a link to a list of questions (some answered but a number of them have not been answered or answered adequately):

  4. Brent says:

    There isn’t enough fill to make a marsh, so what you see now is pretty much what you might see in a decade or more from now. We are still waiting in the Mosquito Lagoon. The disregard for latent pesticides at the base of the spoil piles, in addition to it’s bioaccumulation in the vegetation is negligent. Core sampling only included 5 random samples at the top 12 inches of the piles. Only the ignorant would believe that’s where contaminants would reside. Remember Lake Apopka?
    Page 164: “The Lake Apopka disaster was a classic case of bioaccumulation of organochlorine residues that had lain dormant in soil until restoration activities created conditions for their release.” And the SJRWMD declares Lake Apopka a success!

  5. Bob says:

    The installation of the mosquito ditches DID have science behind them and they were designed and installed through the leadership of Environmental Engineers. This was not a “hope” for success project.. it was a thoroughly researched and engineered project that was, and still is, very successful. Its goal was to control mosquito infestation and it absolutely has done that. So let’s not get carried away and say it was a bad project.
    The unproven and “lets hope for success” project is without a doubt dragline ditch restoration.
    This “restoration” work has been going on for over 18 years and no-one can provide proof that it has been successful anywhere. I’m talking about actual scientific evidence that shows before and after positive results for issues such as water quality, increased fish populations etc. Those pushing this project openly admit this data does not exist. I would think 18 years is long enough to provide proof of positive results. In fact I would think the SJRWMD would be drowning us in this successful data….. if it truly has been a success.
    I believe the scientists and engineers working on this project are not bad people but are too consumed by the theory of expected success and not the reality that dragline ditch restoration has not provided the results they have been expecting. They need to be realistic about the results so far and re-think this whole program.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Bob, I couldn’t agree more. I was referencing “hope” as written by Edman and am not discounting the science or efforts made by the Corp scientists. One question that was not addressed at the meeting was:
    “We have become aware that Option #11- Dragline Ditch Restoration was removed from the recent Reasonable Assurance Plan (RAP) in Mosquito Lagoon. It appears the reason it was removed was due to the lack of site specific & local research. There has been no site specific, local research done at the current prospective project site. Why are you continuing to promote this type of restoration and putting our area at risk without site specific research?”
    This type of project was removed specifically because of their lack of evidence of efficacy. That should be telling us all something that we need to listen to.

  7. William Johnston says:

    I do not know about Glacier melting but the SJRWMD did mention rising sea levels so I hope this helps…Restoration Dredge .com is doing Marsh restoration in the Chesapeake Bay region and they write…Most projects rely on the height of a nearby marsh to guide their dredge work. In this case, engineers employed the findings of a 2012 study that pegged the idea height for development at 11.8″ ABOVE SEA LEVEL. ” You’re maximizing the ability of these plant communities to respond to future sea level rise”, said Matt Whitebeck, a wildlife biologist at the refuge. They said open water is due to rising sea levels and they are losing marshes due to that. The science to build it right is available. Nobody wants a hope of success.

  8. Chris Herrera says:

    Edman, if the project had good science to back it up we would not be protesting. The main reasons for the opposition is based on lack of scientific evidence and a lot if miss information and some flat out lies provided by partners of this project.

    I am sure the majority of “protestors” will never disapprove any project that will help our eco-system improve, the disapproval comes from the possibility of destroying our eco-system.

  9. lori ottlein says:

    This project will be a disaster to every living thing back in the marsh. To destroy the mangroves and kill the wildlife that is thriving there would be a crime. How can an agency that is supposed to be on board with the ecosystem even think of this destruction. It didn’t work when it was done years ago south of here. The agencies involved can not give us clear answers on if and when it will return to it’s so called “natural state”.What it is now is it’s “natural state”.To clear the land and have no plans to replenish what will be torn down is just ridiculous. Seems like just a way to justify jobs and make busy work to use up the money that was allotted to these agencies. Use the money for something useful to all the environment. We have enough of a problem when developers clear land with no regard to wildlife but now to have agencies that were formed to protect the wildlife and the environment set on destroying it we are all in trouble,

  10. William Johnston says:

    Erich Marzolf stated at the last meeting that limited revegetation will take place based on how many plants the park supplies. A salt marsh restoration site in Tampa Bay used 1,137 plugs per acre. That works out to be 45,480 plugs needed for the estimated 40 acres of recovered marsh. How many plugs do they have available? Erich mentioned volunteers will be used. The site is hundreds of little islands how will the volunteers move from one island to the next? They say they have been to the site multiple times but still no specific plan. Are life jackets being supplied? Are the volunteers insured in case of an accident?

  11. Pam says:


    What we are saying is that Mother Nature has already healed herself. The area is not like it was many years ago when the ditching was done. Show us the evidence that this specific area is imparied. Why won’t they? Because it’s not there and the area is not imparied. Science is not one size fits all. Maybe it works in some areas but more study needs to be done to insure that Mother Nature has not healed herself and man needs to step in.

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