It was a long shot, if not a weird one. County government had no idea it was even taking place until the GoFundMe page went live. A Flagler Beach city commissioner was skeptical that it would work. Even its organizers weren’t sure how they would make it work, or if the money would roll in. But it did.
Within two days of organizer Carla Cline, a Flagler Beach resident, publishing a GoFundMe page to raise money as bait for 11 property owners to stop holding out, sign easements and allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a new dune system along 2.6 miles of shore in Flagler Beach, she’d raised upward of $40,000, and soon approached $60,000 from 400 donors, exceeding her goal by $20,000.
“We were just crazy enough to try it. That’s what it boils down to,” Cline said today.
“It pretty much made Flagler Beach own this project. By putting out money and sharing and spreading the word, we totally embraced and now we own this project, which is wonderful, it’s a big deal.”
Soon after that, six of the 11 hold-outs indicated they’d sign in exchange for $4,000 each, plus additional money for the lawyer who’d represented them, and a seventh was willing to sell in exchange for the money offered. That was seven of 11, just like that.
“We’re hoping to get a few more,” Cline said. The county was still working on some land owners at its end.
Greed? Maybe. Probably. But that wasn’t Cline’s concern. She’d devised the fund-raising with Flagler Beach resident and attorney Craig Atack a few weeks ago as a last-ditch effort to convince the hold-outs as even county government hadn’t been able to convince them, and to do it ahead of an August 19 deadline the Army Corps had set. The Corps wanted almost a totality of 141 easements signed by then, or the $25 million project, though fully funded with state and federal dollars, would die.
The Corps and county officials met by Zoom on Aug. 19. The Corps was so impressed by the GoFundMe effort and the large number of contributors, and by the county’s continuing commitment, that rather than killing the project, it recommitted to it, gave a Sept. 19 deadline–the Army Corps has to bid out the project soon, if it is to get done–and indicated that even if the signings fall short of 100 percent participation, the project will now likely move forward.
Five of the hold-outs are concentrated in the 2700 block of South A1A, the very last block of the 2.6-mile stretch at its south end. Six owners in that block signed. But the five that didn’t means the dunes would not be built on those properties, creating breaches that undermine the entire dune wall’s integrity. That block could potentially be “segmented” out of the initial phase of the project, even if temporarily so, as the county and Cline’s efforts continue.
“Talking to them,” County Attorney Al Hadeed, who’s led the easement saga on the county’s behalf, said of the Corps, “we committed to engage in whatever extraordinary efforts were needed, particularly now that we’re bringing the number of holdouts down to a more manageable number, that we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure this project gets done. We are committed to do every inch of the federal project. We think that we have a responsibility to the six owners in the 2700 blocks who signed for the restoration, that we’re going to use whatever efforts are necessary.”
Cline’s effort got a boost when Flagler Beach attorney Dennis Bayer volunteered his services to intercede with the legal paperwork and work it out with the holdouts’ attorney, John LeRoux of Clearwater.
Speaking to the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday night, Hadeed said Cline, Atack and others involved in the GoFundMe effort were certain to win official recognition.
“I’m sure you’re going to do it in some appropriate way, so are we, that is the county government, to thank Carla Cline and Craig Atack for organizing it, oh my gosh, and the countless people that helped them and contributed,” Hadeed said. “And also a big shoutout–I’m going to tell you from my standpoint–a big shoutout to Dennis Bayer, who is volunteering his legal services, because I can’t represent them. I cannot represent them, can’t give them legal advice, can’t make representation on their behalf. That’s just the rules. So Dennis is providing that legal service. As you know he’s been surfing here–I don’t want to give his age, but decades, he’s been surfing here, so he knows this beach incredibly well, his practice is here, his heart is here, so he’s getting to work on something he loves.”
Responding to a series of questions, Hadeed in an email explained in further details Thursday evening: “Because of the renewed momentum, the Corps and the County determined that the County would submit a renewed certificate of land by September 9,” he wrote, the certificate being the document that certifies the number of easements secured. The county had last submitted one on June 30, when holdouts numbered some 16. “This certificate would include all of the owners who had agreed to sign easements, either by the County’s own efforts or that of the ‘Go Fund Me’ campaign.”
The rebound of the Army Corps project buoyed the county to double down. The county’s long-term plan is to build dunes of the same depth and height as the U.S. Army Corps project along the entire length of the county’s shoreline. It rebuilt dunes along 15 miles of beach in a $20 million project in the aftermath of Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, but the dunes were not nearly as massive as the federal project version will be, merely replacing some of the dunes lost to the two hurricanes.
Now the county wants to start on a 2.5 mile extension north and south of the 2.6-mile federal project. In a surprise, Hadeed announced that plan Thursday evening.
“So it was really critical for us to get the federal project launched and the good prospect of going forward so we can go forward with the remainder 2.5 miles. So we’re going to be ready to launch that,” Hadeed told city commissioners. The county is hoping to have good participation from the property owners along the 2.5 miles, but it’s going to be another “daunting” effort, in Hadeed’s view, to get those easements signed. “We’re going to have to go through this again, hopefully we can do it in a shorter time period, with people more educated about the merits of these programs and the merits of the restoration.”
Hadeed did not know how many easements there are. “It’ll be about the same,” he said. He did not mention costs: that portion of the project is not paid for with the federal or state dollars underwriting the Corps segment, and the county has not exactly been flush. If the corps’ portion of the project is costing $25 million, the county’s portion would cost no less, assuming it’ll be built to the same specifications. The county does not have that money, though it may be hoping to dovetail on the public attention to the whole easement saga as a way to secure the new batch–assuming the GoFundMe effort hasn’t created its own expectations of payoffs among the new batch of property owners.
The Non-Federal Project will extend from South 28th Street to the Volusia County line. Also as part of that project, there will be dune restoration from South 6th Street to approximately North 20th Street where the Florida Department of Transportation installed a sea wall.
“City Commissioner Belhumeur asked if the project was going to extend over the sea wall and bury it,” Hadeed wrote. ” I said I would check and communicate back to the Commission but the last design I was familiar with showed it not extending over the wall.” Belhumeur had said–correctly–that FDOT had promised the city that the wall would be buried. It hasn’t worked out that way: sand haas eroded, partially uncovering the wall.
“Thank you for all your endless hours,” Belhumeur told Hadeed at the end of his update.
“No, no no, it’s all the citizens, it’s you, it’s the county commissioners who stood behind the project,” Hadeed replied, “it’s everybody, the folks that contributed, it’s a large number of people to thank.”
“I’ll amend that to thank everybody,” Belhumeur said.