Where has the beach gone north of the Flagler Beach pier?
It was a familiar sight six years ago when Hurricane Matthew’s surge sheared off colossal segments of sand from Flagler’s shore. But there’s been no storms to do this to the beach from the Flagler Beach pier north, for several blocks. There’s been no tropical storm, no Nor’easter, no severe storms. Just tides. Now the beach is all but gone, leaving nothing between waves and cliffs at high tide.
Waves lap at sheer cliffs that drop off from what’s left of a stretch of sand along the boardwalk. That’s still there, covered in vegetation. But then it’s just a drop of 6 to 8 feet below, making it difficult or impossible for beachgoers to lounge by the surf, and making it difficult for them to get to the sands at low tides, because of the cliffs.
It’s a similar scene at around 13th and 14th Street South. “There is no beach for a whole entire block from half of 13th south to half of 14th south. The water is all the way up to the rocks. There is no beach to be had,” Flagler Beach mayor Suzie Johnston said. “I have seen these cliffs created in the past but they were never as far up the dune as they are right now. And that’s what has me worried, is we’re to a point where the erosion is a six-foot drop or more, and it’s almost to where the vegetation is, and every wave that hits the beach is taking more and more sand away. And this is without a storm without super high tides.”
The Flagler Beach City Commission has called an emergency meeting for Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss the situation. The development is adding urgency to beach-renourishment projects slated for next year for both sides of the pier. But those aren’t beginning until next June, with three months left in hurricane season. One of those projects is the Army Corps of Engineers’ dune-rebuildiong of 2.6 miles from South 6th to South 28th Street. The other is a county-led project from South 6th up to about North 20th, and from South 28th to the Volusia County line.
Al Hadeed, the county attorney who continues to steer both projects through their successions of Scylla and Charybdis–and a behind-the-scenes architect of numerous environmental protection initiatives that bear the county’s stamp–was on the beach for four hours today, surveying the erosion. The county’s engineering department is involved, and on Tuesday, the county will take drone footage of the erosion.
“The beach has been experiencing erosion for quite some time and we have noticed it, it’s very apparent,” Hadeed said. “What we’re seeing however are particularly significant erosion events where we’re now getting escarpments.” In the area of the North 200 block, the North 300 block, “the ocean has peeled it away, and now it’s a cliff. Where the sand volume is above the escarpment, it’s particularly at risk because it no longer has the structural stability to resist the erosive effect of ocean waters. When the dune is a berm that goes out and meets the ocean and is a gradual descent in the ocean, that kind of structure presents better resistance to strong waves. Also I noted that in the south 1400, 1500 blocks, the revetment that the Florida Department of Transportation installed, some of which was covered by sand, all of that sand has been washed out.”
The issue began emerging in late July as sand was getting washed out beneath the foot of the pier and the Funky Pelican. The city worried about the stability of the structure and the restaurant. City Manager William Whitson called in consultants from Moffat and Nichol, the Tampa-based engineering consulting firm, which visited the site on July 21.
At the time, the erosion was “localized to the base of the Pier and a few hundred feet to the north and south as erosion dissipates with distance away from the Pier,” according to a 19-page memo the consultants issued. It no longer is as localized.
The erosion spanned 100 feet at the base of the pier when the consultants visited: “The dune under the Pier had retreated landward of the fence a few feet, causing a three to five foot gap between the bottom of the fence/gates and the sand.  The sand around the piles has eroded up to three to four feet below the bottom of the repair grout jackets (of the original Pier piles).” Consultants observed that finer gray sand was covering the orange coquina sand that usually covers the shore.
The consultants attributed the phenomenon to the moon’s closeness to Earth, coinciding with a full moon on July 13. “This combination of lunar occurrences causes higher high and lower low spring tides than normal, which was corroborated by anecdotal reports from the City,” the consultants found. Based on other data available to them, they detected higher eave heights than usual, and consequences from sand bars that push tides further up against the shore. But they don’t expect the stability of the pier to be affected, but were not definitive on that score: “We expect that piles should be deep enough; however, the pile tip elevations should be confirmed with historical records, if available,” they wrote.
That was all before the deeper erosion north of the pier and around 13th Street since.
“In all my years here, you hear people talk and they’re like, oh, this happens all the time,” Johnston says. “This is not happening all the time. I told the city manager we need to act like our hair is on fire. Because this is not normal for our beach. This is not normal erosion at the rate that it’s happening.”
A video taken by Carla Cline between 13th and 14th Street:
Carla Cline, the Flagler Beach business owner who also spearheaded a successful fund-raising drive to entice a few hold-out property owners to sign easements that would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild 2.6 miles of beach south of the pier, lives near 13th Street and has been observing the ocean for the past 24 years, the last 10 taking sunrise pictures of the shore almost daily. She hears people say that sands come and go. But this, she says, is unusual.
“I have never seen the erosion that we’ve seen on the north side and South 14th,” Cline said today. “Definitely on the north side it’s is crazy looking. And then south 14th, it’s also pretty severely eroded only during major storms. We haven’t had anything of that.”
“This has been happening quite a bit all up and down the Florida coast,” said Airielle Cathers, a dive safety officer and maritime archeologist with the One reason why are the grant that we’re working on studies how major storms and hurricanes affect cultural resources. So this is on the minds of professionals in the field, but huge amounts of coastal erosion happening up and down the stage. I’m not exactly sure why this particular area is getting hit by
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, long delayed by hold-outs (who are down to a single property owner), will start in June, Hadeed said, and will then be followed by the county-led portions north and south of it. But the recent erosion means the projects will be more expensive.
Hadeed said the county is working with state and federal officials, examining need to bring “more sand than was originally estimated by the Army Corps when they did their initial beach profile and design studies. So we already know that we’re going to need to more than double the amount of sand we’ll need to achieve the design of the army corps of engineers.” Original estimates had been around 350,000 cubic yards of sand, which was to be dredged from a borrow pit several miles offshore. The county secured the permits to dredge more.
“The added sand volume is going to require more money, so we’re going to have to address that,” Hadeed said. The added sand itself will not increase the cost, but the labor and machinery will.