In another big step in the the plan to rebuild dunes along Flagler’s 18 miles of shore, the county secured a $3.8 million state grant to build the segment that parallels Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area at the south end of Flagler Beach, extending the planned 2.6 miles of dune reconstruction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the city.
But false claims, disinformation, made up fears, “fairy tales” and allegations of government threats are hampering the county’s efforts to secure the necessary easements from a small group of hold-out property owners. Without the easements, the U.S. Army Corps will not proceed on its $25 million portion of the fully-funded project. That project was to have been under way by now and completed by December. It’s not clear when it will start.
“It’s the purveying of these false statements that is causing some people to hesitate, because they don’t know,” County Attorney Al Hadeed said Thursday evening, addressing the Flagler Beach City Commission and referring to hold-outs. The number of easements still not secured has been stuck at 13 (with 128 secured) for weeks. Flagler Beach volunteers have raised $60,000 through a GoFundMe account literally to pay off hold-outs, if that’s what they’re wanting.
Hadeed said the plan has met with some successes in the South 2700 block on State Road A1A, “but I do have an owner there that is very strident in not believing that this is an appropriate project.” That owner and others have been susceptible to believing bogus claims, Hadeed said, among them that easements acquired by the county would somehow be transferred or signed over to a third entity, “and that is a fairy tale, that’s an absolute fairy tale,” Hadeed said.
Most seriously, there’s been talk of government threats against hold-outs, “that the government has threatened these people,” Hadeed said, clearly indignant at the allegation. “We don’t threaten anybody. The most we do is provide information. If we find out something and either because they ask it or because it’s become a popular myth and we need to debunk the myth, we put that information out there, and we’re trying to get them to understand the value of the project, especially when the only interest we are attempting to get is the right to do the project. We don’t want to take the land. We don’t want any ownership. There is no change in their domain over their property, except that they will have a dune restored where they have no dune right now, and we’ll maintain for 50 years at no cost to them.” (The federal government is pledging to renourrish the beach every 10 to 11 years for the next half century, but shouldering only half the cost. The county is responsible for securing the other half, whether through its own tax revenue or through state grants, as it did for the project’s initial phase.)
“If anybody is doing the threatening, please tell me. I don’t have any problem summoning law enforcement if we need to,” Hadeed said. “The gentleman told me–I do not believe him–but the gentleman told me that somebody had their titres slashed and their car vandalized, and I’ve never heard that. I’m sure I would have heard that from somebody. So this is a person that’s just stirring up a lot. I’m saying it because I want it to be publicly known, I want people who have heard any of this stuff–if they want any additional clarification, if they want to make sure that what I’m saying is accurate, in other words that the DOT didn’t offer the whatever, I want them to feel free to contact us and we will straighten them out. And anyone who fears, I don’t know, who fears whatever, we’re certainly willing to deal with that. I have said, I know that residents of the beachside are very upset, very upset, with owners who are stalling the project.”
The project was to have been under way by now, and done by the end of December before the winter seas, and at a time when tourism would be least affected. “Now we’ve missed that timeline because of people not coming forward and in my opinion, not doing the right thing,” Hadeed said. “They have no excuse now. If they think the right thing is they need to get a check, we’ve got an organization that’s willing to do that, OK? So in my mind there’s no excuse. There’s no excuse.”
Allegations of threats are only part of the disinformation eroding the county’s efforts. One other bogus claims making the rounds of hold-outs is that there’s an alleged promise by the Florida Department of Transportation that it would pay for a seawall where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer would also rebuild dunes. “I don’t believe that there was ever any kind of proposal like that,” Hadede said. In fact, the Army Corps is expressly opposed to sea walls where its own projects are in effect.
Holdouts are also speaking of alternatives to the Corps project, such as building a long beach that extends far out from the dune line, as beaches do in South Florida. “I don’t know that that’s appropriate for Flagler Beach or Flagler County. That’s not our community, right?” Hadeed said. “The design has been done very specifically to protect to the maximum extent with the knowledge known, with the data known, the best engineering principle to protect our community. That’s how I push back on those kinds of arguments.”
On a brighter note, the county is in the process of signing an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection to allow Flagler to restore dunes along Gamble Rogers. “They’re providing us $3.8 million to do that, so they’ll fully fund that activity, and that obviously includes use of the offshore sand as well,” Hadeed said. The department is willing to pay in advance. Typically, projects of the sort are reimbursed.
But even that segment is being held back by the delays on the Army Corps portion, which has led the county to threaten eminent domain proceedings against holdouts–the taking of property for public use, in exchange for payment set by a judge.
“We want to get under way, we want to lock up those funds,” Hadeed said, “if we want to do the eminent domain, we’ve got it going. We’re not waiting to find out the person’s answer, we’re going, and we’ll do whatever we need to do in the South 2700 block.”