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Flagler’s Beach ‘Renourishment’ Is Exorbitant Futility

| December 9, 2018

A house on sand: the staging area for the ongoing dunes rebuilding project, at Varn Park off State Road A1A. (© FlaglerLive)

For two hours on Tuesday U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials spoke to a joint meeting of the county commission and the Flagler Beach city commission to describe the scope of the beach renourishment project the corps plans to carry out on 2.6 miles of the city’s beaches. The 50-year project will cost at least $100 million in today’s dollars. Half must be paid by the county, or with money the county is responsible for securing. The corps secured only the first $17.5 million, and a large portion of that is an advance to the county, to be paid back with interest. The corps is dangling that money like the heroin dealer pushing freebies on newbies, to get them hooked. It worked: the two commissions injected Tuesday.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive This project has all the makings of a boondoggle. They already take it as fact that they will have to replenish the 320,000 cubic yards of sands on average every 11 years, more frequently if necessary. But every replenishment will cost the county at least $10 million, just for 2.6 miles of beaches.

Think about this for a moment: in an entirely separate project, the county is currently dumping somewhere in the range of 750,000 cubic yards of sand along 12 miles of beaches north of the city, at a cost of $28 million (quietly up from $25 million when the project rolled out in January). The county got some state money to pay for that, but it’s covering its portion of the cost with revenue from the tourism sales surtax it raised to 5 percent last year. That’s not a lot of money for beach repair: $2 million in 2017, going down to $500,000 a year starting in 2020. The tourism tax can’t be raised further.

That means the county is tapped out as far as revenue sources to pay for renourishment on those 12 miles of beach, where dunes aren’t going to behave any differently than the Corps’– they’re going to wash out to sea sooner than later. If the county can’t pay to renourish its own dunes, how the hell does it expect to pay for the Corps’ renourishment project in Flagler Beach?

A Flagler Beach commissioner asked County Administrator the most salient question of the meeting: “How are we paying for all this? Are we going to defer our payments?” Coffey’s answer: “We don’t have to solve that today.” Easy for him to say. His future in Flagler is as uncertain as his dunes. He nevertheless went right ahead pushing the two commissions to mortgage theirs and the county’s future to colossal, unaffordable sums. And the two commissions inexplicably went along.

That’s before we get in the business of what kind of sand the Corps, never known for aesthetic discernment, will be dredging in from the depths seven miles offshore, a vaguely nauseating-brown mush that’ll “blend” with coquina sands about as well as Hernando de Soto’s lead blended with Timucua Indians on those less-eroded shores five centuries ago.

I don’t dispute their desire to save the beaches that are the hub of the county’s tourism industry. If it were just a matter of dumping sand in the way of erosion, without regard to cost, I’d be all for it. But this is like getting in the habit of Hoover-damming the impossible. Do we really want to get into the business of futility at that cost, with no idea how we’ll pay for it once the commitment to the Corps is in place? I imagine that if you were to put the matter to a vote, and levy any kind of local tax on Flagler County residents to pay for this, they would vote no. Yet that’s what county commissioners and city commissioners approved this week: to go ahead with what will require a backdoor tax one way or another, because the tourism tax mathematically cannot bear that burden alone.

Click On:

Equally concerning was this: for two hours, the Corps and local officials spoke as if they lived in a bubble. Even though the project stretches to 2070, they never once asked or talked about how climate change and rising seas will impact it. Even before the project is completed seas in Florida are projected to rise by as much as 34 inches by 2060. That’s almost three feet. No renourishment project will survive long, not at those costs. And still, not a word about climate change.

It’s not as if it hasn’t been in the news on a daily basis. On Thursday we learned from two new studies that greenhouse gas emissions are surging at unprecedented rates, just as it’s becoming certain that without reducing emissions, not just holding them steady, we might as well kiss goodbye our coastal lands over the next decades. At the end of November a report issued by 13 federal agencies warned of hundreds of billions of dollars in projected economic losses in the United States because of global warming, including infrastructure damage. You can be sure that wasted beach renourishment will be among those losses. And two months ago, the United Nations issued the latest of its series of alarming reports pointing to major crises by 2040, including coastal flooding and wildfires among coming disasters, something we know too much about here.

Our response in the United States and in Florida? Burying our heads in that renourishing sand. President Trump has vowed to get the United States out of the Paris Accords by 2020 even though it’s the closest, and really the only, global compact we now have as a possibility of salvation, terribly flawed as it is. Diplomats from 200 countries are meeting over the next two weeks to write rules on how to implement the Paris accords. The United States is still at the table, but as a disrupting force, not a constructive one. In or out of Paris, Trump has been scrapping Obama-era regulations to reduce methane emissions or raise fuel-efficiency standards, underwriting the coal, oil and gas industries with Teapot Dome abandon, and denying climate change with infantile stupidity (but catastrophic consequences).

Incoming Governor Ron DeSantis, a man who measures his effectiveness by the glow of his television makeup, will be at least as indifferent to climate change’s effect on Florida as his predecessor. And on we go, ignoring the slow, cataclysmic erosion of our once-upon-a-time normalcies.

No wonder no one said a word about any of this at Tuesday’s workshop. Good thing we’re getting 330,000 cubic yards of sand for the Corps’ project, because we’ll need at least one cubic yard for every Flagler County resident’s head to bury.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

21 Responses for “Flagler’s Beach ‘Renourishment’ Is Exorbitant Futility”

  1. Robin says:

    Short term gain with long term loss(es). Read Jeff Goodall’s book ‘The Water Will Come’. Ironically the Miami developers are designing their newer projects with an eye towards Miami becoming like Venice; the mayor has pushed a multi-billion infrastructure project to raise roads, drains and improve pumping stations.

  2. Steve Ward says:

    Bravo PT.

  3. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Pierre… once again we have a board of commissioners that makes hasty decisions based on incomplete analysis and bad information. And hard questions are out of the question. So, once again Flagler County citizens have been committed to a costly long-term project with uncertain prospects of success.

  4. Brandon Cross says:

    You present a situation that can’t be corrected?
    If you research this situation… most beach areas are dealing with same concerns?
    What are you saying?
    Not sure, but think… majority of tourist that visit our site are intrigued with our beaches?
    Are you saying we shouldn’t do All we can to keep our Beaches viable?
    I don’t have a dog in this fight… yet…
    Please show your dog in this ???

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Brandon, no dogs. I’m not against band-aids to extend the life of the beaches a few decades. But this approach is demonstrably unaffordable–not with the revenue in place or available now, not with the two simultaneous dune-reconstruction projects. That’s like trying to fight a two-front international war with a small-town militia. The only benefit is that if there were a catastrophic storm, the federal government would have to pay for the majority of the immediate repairs–and only to the 2.6-mile segment in Flagler Beach. Flagler is on its own for the rest of it. But meanwhile even for the 2.6 miles stretch, Flagler’s share is like an insurance premium it just doesn’t have the means to pay. No matter how you play with the numbers, the county comes out under water, and about as deep as where they’ll be getting that mucky sand seven miles offshore. The Corps has no idea and doesn’t care not because it’s being malicious, but because it has no reason to take local finances into account.

  5. Charlie says:

    All that new sand will be in the intra-coastal waterway after next years Cat 5…..Oops !!!!

  6. Dog Daze says:

    To be done correctly, very large boulders (not coquina) should be used as jetties extending into the ocean installed in several locations along the Flagler Beach coastline. This will allow sand to be collected and remain along the coastline. Unless this type of design is used, it is a waste of tax dollars. The coquina rocks that were used after Hurricane Mathew were useless, temporary and just washed away.

  7. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    A crystal ball would tell us Pierre is absolutely correct. Why are we letting incompetent uncaring bureaucrats do this to us? Isn’t it time we rally together and stop uncontrolled squandering of money we don’t have?

  8. Robin Davis says:

    When we lived in Naples Collier County spent 16 million bucks dredging from offshore to rebuild the beach, and they installed various jetties and offshore reef to preserve the beach. It all lasted less than 5 years- and not from a specific named storm. Just everyday erosion. Shorelines are dynamic and it is a generally losing battle determine their path.

  9. marlee says:

    You have NO idea how many trucks drive south and then return trip north 3-4 times a day back on A1A starting before 6AM.

    Where will this sand end up?

    In CA they have been “saving” houses in San Diego with sand dunes which then end up in the ocean.

    In the long run, it doesn’t work.

  10. brandon Cross says:

    I will admit that I am not necessarily the tallest tomato plant in the garden, Yet even so I do have questions.
    Please explain your thoughts. Perhaps I am Wrong, sounds like, from your writings, that you have negative
    perceptions regarding beach renourshment/beach replacement.
    Actually, you have a spin on this that I don’t understand.
    On one hand you agree that our beach conditions should be addressed.
    On the other hand you criticize efforts being suggested.
    Unfortunately, as a reader of this site… I am perplexed…
    I read much about efforts currently suggested, by government agencies to work on this problem.
    Tell me if I am Wrong… you have expressed concerns about these efforts?
    Please give me your thoughts on how these problems should be addressed?
    Easy to complain.. not so easy to give solutions????
    Just Sayin

  11. djm says:

    Being the reasonable skeptic that I tend to be, how about this: Maybe the County is secretly encouraging this renourishment plan knowing full well what an enormous amount money is going to be necessary to carry out this plan, and knowing full well that it will be an enormous strain on County and Flagler Beach budgets, and therefore they might possibly suggest that the only remedy from all this strain would be to enable short term vacation rentals and remove the 35 ft. building height limit in Flagler Beach, which would then pave the way for land developers to build high rises and vacation rentals providing the additional tax revenues for these extreme expenses incurred.

  12. Agkistrodon says:

    Pierre, You smacked the hell out of that nail. As someone with multiple degrees in earth science, from actual Universities, NOT online, and someone who spent years working in Oceanography and Coastal Conservation, I can tell you there is NO greater waste of money. I would NOT build on a Mountain side as that terrain is constantly changing. I would NOT build on a fault zone as that is constantly changing, and I would NOT build on the coast line as that is Constantly changing. To think one can Control or Change Mother Nature is a foolish endeavor. EVERY time Humans have it has failed. And with areas of barrier islands, like MOST of Florida, those islands are constantly “migrating” or moving, it is called Barrier Island Hop. To think you can manipulate or change mother natures plan is foolish. And that goes for changing climate patterns as well. Can’t apply to one thing and NOT the other. Science, you gotta love it, as for the most part it is based on Facts, and Facts trump Feelings.

  13. Pogo says:

    @You’ve been warned for decades

    Flagler Live is right on point as usual. We, us – all of you – have been warned for decades. And for decades, now, the same tactics used by the cigarette manufacturers (to justify and defend the indefensible) have been employed to deny reality about climate change, its causes, and its consequences. We are all already in the lifeboat – the planet we live on. We had better start bailing right now.

    Books of The Times

    Not if the Seas Rise, but When and How High

    By Jennifer Senior

    “Once you’ve read an excellent book about climate change, which Jeff Goodell’s “The Water Will Come” most certainly is, you can never unremember the facts. Elected officials may be busy arguing about whether global warming is real. But most scientists are having other arguments entirely — about whether danger is imminent or a few decades off; about whether our prospects are dire or merely grim.

    “Sea-level rise is one of the central facts of our time, as real as gravity,” Goodell writes. “It will reshape our world in ways most of us can only dimly imagine.”

    Goodell has little trouble imagining it. He opens “The Water Will Come” with a fictional hurricane whipping through Miami in 2037. It sweeps the Art Deco buildings of South Beach off their foundations, disgorges millions of gallons of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay and eats the last of the city’s beaches. Thousands scramble for bottled water dropped by the National Guard. Zika and dengue fever start to bloom (so much moisture, so many mosquitoes). Out rush the retirees and glamour pusses; in rush the lawyers and slumlords. Within decades, the place is swallowed whole by the ocean. What was once a vibrant city is now a scuba-diving destination for intrepid historians and disaster tourists…”

    The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World Hardcover – October 24, 2017
    by Jeff Goodell

  14. beachcomberT says:

    Insanity — Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. You don’t have to be an Einstein to understand the long-term futility of beach renourishment. That said, it may still be worth Band-aid measures for the short term IF the taxpayers of Flagler Beach and Flagler County are willing to pay the cost. No reason for taxpayers in Orlando or Omaha to save our beaches.

  15. mark101 says:

    “”. Even before the project is completed seas in Florida are projected to rise by as much as 34 inches by 2060″” that’s ok, most of us on here will not be here in 2060.

    But this is a perfect example will Coffey needs to go. A wasteful spending of money, without a real plan. Dumping sand is not it. .

  16. Ramone says:

    I agree with Pierre. Spending this much money on sand that will wash away periodically doesn’t seem like a long term solution. I know there are downsides, but wouldn’t a seawall be a better investment?

    But beyond that, I don’t really see why Flagler County and the City of Flagler Beach should be paying anywhere near half of this money. A1A is a state road. This road can be utilized by anyone, whether you’re a state resident, U.S. resident or a visiting foreign guest. It seems to me that FDOT should be ponying up the majority of this money. If they want to transfer ownership of the road and the ROW to the city and county, and they’re willing to accept it, that’d be one thing. But all of this is about protecting their road and they seem to be taking a minor role in paying for it.

  17. Fredrick says:

    Make A1A a toll road except for locals. Make all the bridges to the island tolls (both ways) except for the locals. I realize that will be a drop in the bucket, but if you want to enjoy the beach then pay for the beach. As far as climate change, I am not a denier, yes it does change for time, both naturally and man does have some impact (how much is debatable) and we should take care of mother earth, but according to the climate messiah, Al Gore, aren’t we supposed to already be underwater and all the ice caps melted? You are worried about 40 years from now being under water?… 40 years ago we were supposed to be moving into a mini ice age….

  18. Agkistrodon says:

    Ramone, A Sea wall WILL makes matters WORSE. Leave Mother Nature to her Business. There’s an old saying, that goes, “If you don’t like the weather where you live, move.” And if you build stuff in the wrong place, be ready to move when needed……..Coastlines change CONSTANTLY, cause they are supposed to. When you live on a giant moving “raft”(Continents), they need to be flexible.

  19. Dave says:

    Pointless! Let nature take its course, if you chose to build a home , road , or buisness right next to the beach then that was your silly decision and the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay. Let the ocean take A1A and all the homes and buisness with it. It’s just nature taking its course and we would be silly to try and fight it.

  20. debbieqd says:

    Bravo, Pierre! Keep tellin’ it.

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