Last weekend’s nor’easter ripped through Flagler County’s dune structures and caused a lot more damage than originally thought, further weakening the dune line that has steadily been losing sand since it was rebuilt in 2018 for $20 million after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. On-the-ground surveys and drone videos are documenting the extent of the damage.
“It is a lot of damages out there,” said Faith al-Khatib, Flagler County’s chief engineer, after surveying the damage in person. The survey is ongoing. “It looks basically almost like after Matthew, in some areas maybe 20 percent of the sand we built recently just left. It’s very bad.” The engineer described several areas where the dunes drop off into cliffs, their sand simply sheared off as it had been after Matthew, when parts of the Flagler shore looked like mini cliffs of Dover.
The damage is especially obvious in the northern parts of the county’s shoreline. “Most of these areas, the sand is gone there. I know by Hammock Dunes, by Jungle Hut, by Marineland areas, not much left there. So we got beaten really bad with this storm. We did not finalize the assessment yet.” More areas of damage are still being identified.
In parts of Flagler, it appears the storm carved out even more of the dune system than it had during Matthew. Roger Cullinane in the Hammock sent this in, illustrating the depth of the damage:
A drone video produced by Christopher Goodfellow provides a comprehensive view of the damage:
The damage in Flagler Beach was more limited, with the pier reopening Tuesday morning after it was closed for an inspection following the storm. The county is not seeing the severe dune erosion as a failure: the dunes are doing their job. But doing their job means getting progressively sacrificed. “We knew all of us whatever we did, it was temporary, and we had to come up with a long-term plan, we have to identify our resources, and that’s what we’ve been working on and will continue to work on.”
The rebuilt dunes were nourished with sand trucked in from quarries. The dunes could only be built up to a certain height. In comparison, much wider, more substantial dunes are set to be built in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ beach-rebuilding project funded for 2.6 miles of beach in Flagler Beach. Those dunes are expected to have a life-span of about 10 years.
In conjunction with that project, the county has also secured state funding, through the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation, to rebuild dunes to the same specifications additional mileage. That county-driven project is in two parts. One will go from the south boundary of the Army Corps project all the way to the Volusia County line. The other will go from South 6th Street (the north point of the Corps project) as far north as funding will allow. The county is hoping to reach at least North 19th Street.
All that sand will be dredged from a borrow pit seven miles off shore. The U.S. Department of the Interior has granted permis for all the dredging from a site 10 to 11 nautical miles off shore, according to County Attorney Al Hadeed.
The county plans on carrying out the two stretches of dune-rebuilding simultaneously, al-Khatib said. “That’s our goal, it’ll be much more efficient, much more cost-effective.”
That still leaves some 13 miles of beach that the county’s 2018 project rebuilt, but that now have suffered the successive loss of significant volumes of sand even in routine storms like last weekend’s nor’easter–routine, that is, in previous decades. No longer: with rising seas, such routine storms are taking on far more damaging dimensions when coupled with major tidal events.
The county has not secured funding for those 13 miles. It is becoming obvious, if not critically so, that time is no longer on the county’s side. The county has been working on its beach management plan and will hold a workshop on that in January, when the assessment is expected to figure in the discussion, along with long-term funding options. Federal, state and local funds, along with local, targeted assessments, will all be discussed, al-Khatib said.
Goodfellow also documented the breach at Marineland. This video was taken on Nov. 9:
This afternoon, the county issued the following advisory:
While Flagler’s beaches are open, those accustomed to using walkovers points at some of the coastal parks may have to come up with an alternate plan.
“All of the traditional beach access points are open, but please use caution,” said Parks and Recreation Supervisor Craig Lenniger. “There is a large amount of erosion at the dune lines that could make entering or exiting the beach more difficult than normal. Whether open or closed, visitors will likely see warning signs urging caution.”
Parks without beach access include:
- Bay Drive Park – 30 Bay Drive – the pavilion and park are open, but there is no access to the beach at this location until further notice because of storm damage.
- Jungle Hut Park – 125 Jungle Hut Road – beach crossover is closed until further notice, though the park itself is open.
Parks with full beach access include:
- River to Sea Preserve – 9805 N. Oceanshore Boulevard
- MalaCompra Park – 115 MalaCompra Road
- Old Salt Park – 200 16th Road
- Varn Park – 3665 N. Oceanshore Boulevard
“We want to reiterate the importance of using caution,” Lenniger said. “Last week’s storm took a toll on the beach. There are lots of areas with cliff-like drop offs.”