Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed Monday evening announced he had secured a long-sought easement from Flagler Beach property owner Leonard Surles, reducing the list of holdouts to a single property owner: Cynthia D’Angiolini.
She owns two parcels that require easements so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can proceed on its long-delayed $25 million plan to rebuild 2.6 miles of dunes between South 6th and South 28th Street. The Corps informed the county it needed 141 easements along the 2.6 miles in October 2018. It executed an agreement with the county in July 2019 that formalized the requests. The county secured 138 easements in the nearly three and a half years since, but Surles and D’Angiolini wouldn’t sign.
The Corps plans to dredge between 350,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of sand from a borrow pit some 9 miles offshore to rebuild dunes into a substantial barrier between the rising ocean and State Road A1A and the homes and businesses behind it. But the Corps will not proceed unless all property owners along the stretch sign easements enabling the Corps to work the dunes. The easements do not sign away rights to the land. Neither the Corps nor the county is taking over the land. The easements only allow the Corps to work on the site and dump sand, and to do so periodically, every decade, over the next four decades. The land remains in the property owners’ hands, as do all rights.
Despite those assurances, memorialized in county resolutions, some property owners had held out, and the project, its completion already more than a year overdue, has dragged. (See: “Flagler About To Sign 50-Year, $100 Million Deal to Rebuild 2.6 Miles of Dunes in Flagler Beach. It Has Only a Fraction of the Money.”)
The county has been threatening eminent domain suits, a move it’s never made against any property owner in its century-long history. That threat is still hanging over D’Angiolini, with a taking hearing taking place in court likely in May.
The Corps has issued an ultimatum, and earlier this year threatened to pull the federal portion of the funding from the project–$17 million, itself secured in 2017 after years of efforts. Flagler County was responsible for the $8 million balance. Instead of drawing from its own funds, the county engineer, Faith al-Khatib, secured $8 million in state dollars, from the Division of Environmental Protection. The project has been under study and in the works for a decade and a half. So a lot has been at stake, not least the safety and viability of residents and businesses on a barrier island now regularly battered by an increasingly temperamental and destructive ocean. The dunes will not stop the destruction. They will blunt and diminish it, and delay the day of reckoning, possibly to the end of the century, beyond which the barrier island may be past protection.
Surles and his partner agreed to sign without money. “We were just able to satisfy them as to the bonafides of the project, our objectives in the project and how it would not damage their property interest and would protect it,” Hadeed said, giving credit to the numerous people involved in finally securing the easement, among them al-Khatib and the Army Corps’ own attorney, along with volunteers in Flagler Beach who raised money to entice some of the property owners to sign. They were successful in several cases. County Commissioners Greg Hansen and Dave Sullivan also had conversations with Surles. Hadeed has played the role of legal quarterback. “So I think it is really the success of the community and our partners that have brought us to this point, obviously a very important milestone.”
Hadeed was summing up the latest development to the Flagler County Commission Monday evening. Without naming D’Angiolini, 70, who has owned the property at 2538 South Oceanshore Boulevard since 1997. “We have one owner, hopefully we can resolve it without having to go through a full-bore eminent domain proceeding, but if we’re not when we were on a track to proceed to file and pursue to conclusion to the extent necessary,” Hadeed said.
Last week Hadeed wrote the Corps an update in answer to the federal agency’s ultimatum. In that ultimatum, James Booth, the Corps’ district commander in Jacksonville, had asked for an explanation of the county’s work so far. Hadeed’s response lays out a timeline that would have the county have appraisals of the two D’Angiolini parcels certified by March 1, the County Commission approving spending money for the eminent domain suit a week later, and the county filing its action in Circuit Court on May 2. All along, the county intends to continue negotiating with D’Angiolini–who had also been in contact with Surles, who, in turn, may have some influence over D’Angiolini’s decision, just as he had influenced her decision to hold out.
The county hopes the pressure of being the last holdout, combined with the threat of eminent domain, where D’Angiolini cannot prevail (governments don;t lose eminent domain actions; they only pay) may convince her finally to sign.