Three months after Flagler County government warned that a $25 million dune-rebuilding project for 2.6 miles of shore in Flagler Beach was in jeopardy because of just 13 property owners refusing to sign easements, the project is still hung up, with hold-outs down to 11. Some 128 easements have been signed. Easements don’t alter a property owner’s rights. They merely allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dump sand on the property.
The county is warning that the longer the Corps waits to bid out the project–which should have been near completion by now, in the Corp’s original estimate–the greater the chance that the money will be lost and the project scrapped.
But the county is muscling its way to an eventual start date anyway. It feels confident that the County Commission’s formalizing reassurances to property owners that their rights will remain intact will convince the majority of the hold-outs to sign. On Oct. 5 the commission passed a resolution that does what those owners had asked for: put in explicit writing, as a “memorialized” government action, that their rights stay whole.
“We are not altering any of the rights of ownership except the right of Flagler County through its contractors, through Army Corps funding, to go in and restore the dune per engineered specifications, per landscape specifications,” County Attorney Al Hadeed explained, summarizing the resolution. “And to maintain that dune and repair that dune and particularly to perform significant repairs in the event of a presidentially declared storm. So therefore, they do not give up their right to prevent the public from crossing over their property from A1A onto the beach and vice versa. People cannot traverse across their property, as some had feared or raised as a possibility, because the language wasn’t that specific.”
Separately from the county, a grass-roots effort led by Flagler Beach residents Carla Cline and Craig Atack raised $60,000 in a GoFundMe effort to convince the hold-outs to sign in exchange for roughly $15,000 each. That, combined with the county’s resolution, has the county bullish on a breakthrough.
“We are finalizing details for these outstanding easements as we speak,” Hadeed said this morning, “and with a measurable change brought about by the codification of the assurances for the benefit of all property owners.”
It appears that most property owners may sign easements soon. But two may not, requiring the second approach the county is taking.
It’s the nuclear option in disputes between government and property owners: eminent domain–the Fifth Amendment right of a government to take ownership of private property for public use in exchange for fair payment. It’s laborious, heavy handed and can be expensive, requiring litigation. But it also almost guarantees that the government initiating the proceeding will get the land in dispute, and that the property owner will lose all rights to it.
That’s the step Flagler County government said it was willing to initiate in early September against at least one of the property owners, Cynthia Dangiolini, who owns parcels in the South 24th and South 25th Street blocks. Unlike many of the other hold-outs, Dangiolini, a resident of Flagler Beach, is not represented by an attorney. She has been reclusive and shown little interest in cooperating with the county. When the commission cleared the way for eminent domain in early September, the county administration hoped it would send a message to Dangiolini, convincing her to sign or else lose her property altogether.
Dangiolini contacted the county’s engineering department, which prepared a document for her showing where the dune will be, where the erosion control line will be and so on. “So we’re hopeful that that is an indication that the individual will act in a way so that we do not have to continue to pursue eminent domain,” Hadeed said, “where she as a property owner runs the real risk of not having ownership of the dune remnants.” But as Hadeed updated the Flagler Beach City Commission last week, he said eminent domain may be necessary with Dangiolini and one other owner.
That process would take three months. How much it will cost the county beyond legal fees is unclear. “The procedure that we’re using irrevocably commits us to paying whatever price is determined by the judge,” Hadeed said. “It’s an irrevocable choice. So we will get the property by initiating these proceedings. There’s no question about that. That won’t be blocked.”
It doesn’t change the Army Corps’ timeline. “They told us we’re not going to bid it until you get those two remnants in the project area, and with that, they’ll accelerate completing their construction plans and putting them out to bid,” Hadeed said. “I can’t control that end of it.”
There were 140 easements to start with along the 2.6 miles of beach. The Corps will rebuild dunes reconstructed with upwards of 300,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from a borrow pit offshore. The wall of dunes is expected to provide considerable protection for State Road A1A, prolonging at least for a while the life of the road and the homes and businesses along its west side.
The Army Corps project is only the first phase of a projected 50-year project that, in today’s dollars, will cost $100 million, with the federal government picking up only half that cost. The other half is Flagler’s responsibility–whether through local dollars or other grants. The county has secured money only for the first phase. Subsequent “renourishment” phases are expected to happen every decade or so. But if a major storm were to demolish any part of the beach, the federal government would pick up the entire bill repair costs. That’s one of the aspects of the project that convinced local officials to sign on. On the other hand, with seas inexorably rising, the 50-year timeline of the project may be overly optimistic. A1A may not survive the ocean’s onslaught that long.
The federal project is only a small part of Flagler County government’s far more ambitious plan to do likewise on all 18 miles of county shoreline.
“The federal project is the lynchpin for everything,” Hadeed said. “For everything we’re going to do on the beach, the whole 18 miles. It’s only to the Army Corps that we got the offshore sand site. If somehow this project can’t be done, we lose that offshore sand site, we’re not going to be able to do the non-federal, the rest of Flagler Beach, we’re not going to be able to use that sand source for–what is it–the other 12 miles or so of the Flagler County shoreline. This is a lynchpin project.”
The county has some money to do likewise on the miles of beach beyond the Army Corps project (roughly five miles in Flagler Beach is paid for) and FEMA funding is pending for the northern 12 miles. “No dollar numbers have been finalized as of this moment,” Hadeed said. (An earlier version of this article had incorrectly stated that the county had none of the funds necessary to accomplish dune reconstruction beyond the Army Corps project.) The county is so strapped for money that it is considering a new sales surtax to generate new dollars.