A majority of Flagler Beach residents now appear to favor so-called secant walls, those blunt, thick, rugged sea walls of piles drilled into the dune line, reinforced with concrete and steel and, in normal circumstances, buried under dunes.
But that support generally rests on a fundamental misconception–that sea walls would not only protect State Road A1A behind them, but the beaches in front of them as well.
According to numbers tallied by the Department of Transportation and obtained by FlaglerLive, 27 of the 48 people who contributed written opinions to the state following a “listening session” about A1A options last week in Flagler Beach said they were either fully or somewhat in favor of building secant walls. (See: “Sea Walls, Granite, Dunes: FDOT Options to Strengthen A1A Are Nothing Flagler Hasn’t Seen Before.”)
Out of 58 responses, 21 people were either opposed to secant walls outright (seven were in that column), or favored beach renourishment and dune rebuilding only (12), or more rock revetments (three). Several responses did not fall into any of the categories.
“If you’re going to fix the problem, you might as well go with the secant wall with vegetation,” Joe Kovach said. Or, as Graig Foust of North central Avenue put it: “1: first priority should be to protect the community, which to me means A1A. 2: Second priority, attempt to maintain the beach, but not at the expense of #1 above. It seems to me that secant wall method is the best. I realize that the beach may wash away during severe storms, but if all we must do is then restore the beach, we have saved the time and expense of rebuilding A1A yet again, plus be still be doing beach restoration that would need to be done anyway.”
Taken at face value, the numbers project a distinct turnaround from the public response the department got and Flagler Beach government itself gave in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, when opposition to walls was loud and shrill. Numerous storms and catastrophic erosion along the shore since have also eroded resistance to walls, however ugly, environmentally suspect and damaging to beaches’ longevity they may be: sea walls tend to protect what’s behind them at the expense of what’s in front of them, including habitat.
The Transportation Department’s data is especially significant because it will be used to dispense with more anecdotal or fleeting opinions heard at government meetings, in social media and in comment sections, providing both DOT and local governments with a more detailed and documented perspective on residents’ wishes.
But DOT’s tally may not at all be as clear as the numbers indicate, especially when reading the words behind the numbers. Based on their responses, many residents seem to have misconceptions of what secant walls do and don’t do, and to what extent they protect (as opposed to impact) the beach. Most notably, many respondents who want both road and beach preserved equally confuse the walls’ protection of State Road A1A with protection of the beach.
In fact, the two are not at all synonymous, and can potentially be mutually exclusive. While a renourishment project alone would protect both beach and road (or provide 96 percent protection to the road, in the words of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jason Harrah), a wall project would protect the road but more likely damage the beach, according to Harrah. That’s why the Corps, which is set to carry out a huge beach renourishment at the south end of Flagler Beach, will not do so should a sea wall be built anywhere in its planned project area.
A closer look at the responses point to many of those misconceptions and misunderstandings of sea walls. The responses suggest that, while DOT provided a listening session residents greatly appreciated, its explanations about how sea walls work–at least based on the response it elicited–were either wanting or tendentious.
“Preserve turtle nesting availability,” Palma Berardi of North 12th Street responded, voicing support for walls. “Already have very narrow beach in many areas–don’t like projects that reduce beach area. Dune restoration seems a waste of money; washes away.” But absent significant sand renourishment, walls are more likely to impact turtle nests and narrow the span of the beach, according to the Corps.
“In north Flagler Beach (North 17- North 13th) we have wide healthy dunes,” Mary Louk of North Central Avenue wrote. “I would like to see the secant wall installed from the roadside, limiting the impact to the existing dunes.” In fact, the installation of a wall there would counter the very health of the dunes Louk is seeing as the scouring effect of the ocean would more rapidly carve out what would be left of the dunes. Dunes, when healthy, are nature’s walls, which is why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ project south of the pier is built around recreating broad, sloping dunes that would widen the beach.
“I like the secant wall placed in high damage areas,” a respondent identified only as D. Black said. “Then add the granite to provide additional stability. Then dune renourishment.” But DOT would not combine sea walls with rock revetments, nor would it combine sea walls with renourishment: that’s why the Corps of Engineers would not go ahead with its plan to renourish south Flagler Beach if DOT were to build walls there. The two are incompatible.
Still, in its tally of responses, DOT counted such responses as favoring secant walls, thus creating the impression of more support for such walls than there may be.
DOT’s tally buttresses its decision no longer to just rebuild A1A and wait for the next storm to shred it. John Tyler, the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 5 secretary, told the Flagler Beach City Commission in November that that was no longer an option, for understandable reasons. It kept costing the department (and taxpayers) millions of dollars each time, including in this last round, without achieving a different result.
Opponents of sea walls also filled the comment box, and in several cases did so with a clearer understanding of the options and their consequences: “I am opposed to the 2 proposals referencing walls (sea wall and secant wall) for several reasons,” Marie Finn of South Central Avenue wrote. “1) While they may protect A1A, they do not keep our beaches and dunes serviceable, functional and resilient for decades to come, which is actually your mission statement per the handout. 2) Sea walls, over time, will fail (as seen in Wilbur by the Sea). Storms will wash out the sand in front of the wall and then there will be a vacuum situation created, causing the sand behind the wall to wash out, diminishing the strength of the wall. 3) We will lose the Corps project. Who, then, will help replenish the beach? And what about the nesting turtles? 4) Who will be attracted to the businesses on A1A if we have a serviceable A1A but the beach is washed away? And what about the new hotel — who ants to come to a beach that has no beach? My community needs to be fully advised that the sea wall options negate the Corps project. That needs to be explained. No one wants to lose the Corps project — we’ve all worked too long and hard for that — so it needs to be clear that the Corps project goes away if DOT puts in a sea wall.”
The only misconception in that instance is that the Corps project would negate all DOT projects or sea walls. It will not. Tyler told Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy that DOT would carry out i projects on the remaining parts of Flagler’s shore, outside the Corps area, should the Corps proceed. (Louk, the resident quoted above, supports secant walls at the north of the city and the Corps project at the south portion.)
Finn’s statement was echoed almost word for word by Harry Cepura, who noted skepticism at DOT’s commitment to the city’s beaches. He raised a question DOT officials could not answer beyond generalities at the listening session: “Who will maintain the dune and beach if a seawall is installed? Nowhere does FDOT state any future maintenance.” (The Corps project’s commitment is spelled out in a contract you can read here.)
The Department of Transportation hosted the “listening session” in Flagler Beach last week, where it displayed the four options it is considering. Doing nothing was not one of them. The four options, as reported at the time:
- Building more secant pile sea walls like the one it built at the north end of Flagler Beach in 2019. That’s the option the department favors most.
- Dumping more granite revetments, as it periodically has at the south end of Flagler Beach and in Marineland.
- Dune restoration and beach renourishment through colossal and recurring sand dumps.
- Building Sheet pile walls like those occasionally seen in front of properties around Painters Hill.
Responses opposing secant walls and favoring beach renourishment were
The Department of Transportation built a secant wall at the north end of Flagler Beach in 2019, after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma damaged the shoreline there and south of the Flagler Beach pier. The wall was buried in sand for a while but lost it all even before Hurricane Nicole hit. But while it laid bare and scraggly-ugly against the shoreline, it withstood Nicole’s and Ian’s assaults, as well as the onslaught of other storms and unusual high tides. The wall’s protection contrasted with the effects of the storm south of the pier, where A1A was again shredded, requiring millions of dollars in emergency repairs, and millions more to come to solidify the road again.
The freshness of the latest destruction and the contrast between the south side of the city and the north side almost certainly played a big role in the public response. But that leaves open to question how the public would have responded had the Army Corps’ renourishment project, the first of its kind in Flagler, been carried out by now.
The project has been delayed for three years because of hold-outs who wouldn’t sign easements allowing the Corps to do its work. The last of the hold-outs, who alone delayed the project a full year, finally agreed to sign just this week. The project is getting re-calibrated, to account for further erosion over the past three years, and will get under way in April 2024, according to county officials.
Once the project is completed, Harrah said the 2.6 miles of beach it covers will be significantly broader than the beach as it looks now, and dunes far ampler than those the county is rebuilding at the north end of Flagler will be restored–and rebuilt again soon after they are eroded, as needed.
County Attorney Al Hadeed and County Engineer Faith al-Khatib conceded last fall, soon after Hurricane Nicole struck, that had the renourishment project been completed by then, the damage to A1A would likely not have been anywhere near as severe, and the road may not have been damaged at all. Residents have not had the opportunity to see what a renourishment projects looks like, and can do for their beach.
But once they do, they will be able to compare renourishment with secant walls and see advantages and differences between both. If DOT were to then solicit their opinions about how to protect A1A, their responses would likely be different than those collected last week.
“Dune restoration = FB desire for natural environment,” Angela Smith, a member of the Flagler Beach Economic Development Task Force, said, referring to the city by its initials.
Corps project or not, sea walls also had their supporters on the south side: “Put a seawall on the south side, like the one on the north side,” Diane Cline of South Flagler Avenue suggested to DOT. “Put major funding into plants, complete with follow through care to ensure they prosper. The top priority plant is saw palmetto and the plants need to be big enough to survive being neglected.”
DOT officials said they would decide what options to proceed with by march, ahead of the legislative session, so they know what sort of funding to request from lawmakers.
To read all written responses to DOT, go here.
Just let the corps decide. They have a lot of experience in this field. If DOT thinks it will be too expensive to maintain A1A without a seawall, then let them move it, similarly to how old A1A was moved in Summer Haven.
I think we’re close to seeing the end of turtle nesting unless some entity agrees to replenish natural sand periodically. What we have with the rocks is already close to a sea wall anyway, hence quite a bit of the beach will have no dry sand this year, absent reduction in tides and inflow of sand, which does happen sometimes.
@The age of reason — or Déjà vu?
I hear China knows about walls.
I Just Love Flagler Beach says
Bottom line appears to be, do we want a seawall or a beach, because with yearly storms we most likely can’t have both. I think before people declare their support for or against a seawall they need to be educated on what a seawall is and what it can and can’t do. Not just a one-sided education, tell us all the pros and cons because once it’s done there’s no going back, so we better at least be aware of what we’re getting into.
tom dooley says
Bottom line is climate change, right dems? That “sand bar” will be under water in less than 10 years per aoc so why waste the tax dollars? let it go!!! Can’t fight mother nature. Oops I meant “birthing nature”. lol.
Nephew Of Uncle Sam says
AOC has nothing to do with it. Get educated and visit NOAA or any University that has “Meteorology” studies for the most up to date “Climate” information and how it’s affecting the World, not just the East Coast of Florida.
I Just Love Flagler Beach says
Agree totally, bottom line is climate change, and the non-believers are willing to sit back and just “let it go.” We are after all living in Florida where we do fortifying, you know reacting instead of proacting. Since that doesn’t seem to be changing in the near future we need to at least fortify in an educated manner.
Flagler Strong says
Great reporting here Flagler Live. For once you did not inject your negative progressive views about our elected governor (in an actual fair and legit election)
This has me thinking of a more relatively better mousetrap as a longer lasting temporary solution. What is A1A where it was closest to the ocean were to be constructed as segments of land bridges. How much time in terms of years, decades to a century would that as road construction buy ? How A1A is in Flagler, there is still substantial land between A1A & the Atlantic ocean in some areas, while the areas at risk obviously are the locations where A1A has snaked back to the last dune standing for proximity to the ocean & that open view. Last dune standing A1a at some point would become an elevated bridge like the older 7 mile bridge in the FL Keys or even the Nassau county Amelia Park bridge. The George Crady Fishing bridge was the original bridge there, they just diverted A1A to the new bridge location yards away from the older bridge. In Flagler, for more landlocked A1A the road would grade/ramp for the last dune sections of A1A. Initially similar to a concrete ramp and then ultimately that wouldn’t require a graded ramp section as solid earth.
“…How much time in terms of years, decades to a century would that as road construction buy ?…”
How many of the well-off are quietly considering life in a near perpetual construction zone; complete with innumerable large diesel engines and pile drivers purring next to them — and, also (the aforementioned well-off), quietly creeping away to somewhere else?
The not well-off have those thoughts too, but they’re just shit out of luck — and all know that.
Who would compensate the businesses that starved to death: pay for the collateral damage created by, e.g., vibrations of pile driving, trucks running over residents and visitors toes, etc.?
Where would the “Fuck Biden” youth leaders gather to praise their god on earth?
Stephen Point says
Why is nobody talking about jetties made with stone or concrete dolls, terapods….once the dunes and beach are nourished, the Corp should install jetties every x number of blocks. Is been done for years at northern beaches. You don’t lose your beach in storms. Beach stays, dunes stay. Install some kind of mega strong netting down both sides of the jetties to catch people from washing into the jetties.
Kim Pandich-Gridley says
Please forgive my ignorance as I don’t profess to have any true knowledge of the logistics, but I do have a vested interest, having moved from Palm Coast to Flagler Beach six years ago. Wasn’t there some discussion earlier about building a jetty offshore that would mitigate erosion from hurricanes? I don’t know if that’s even practical (again, my ignorance showing) but I do see the obvious pros and cons of both the sea wall and dune restoration. For those who say, “Just abandon A1A to a bike path” etc., can you please consider for a moment the many businesses and homes that have made a considerable investment on this historic road? (Full disclosure: I don’t live on A1A). The biggest thing Flagler County has going for it as a tourist destination is the beach and if that’s gone for good, we lose a good part of what makes our county special, along with some serious tax revenue. Please enlighten me on the jetty issue if possible. Thank you.
How about some solutions on flooding from Smith creek? From the figures I’ve heard over 500 people flooded from Nicole and I was one of them. We have alot bigger issue then just the ocean side. It’s hard to keep going through this. It makes retirement in flagler beach very worrisome
Christian Sezonov says
For 10 years we owned a condo at Marina Bay. During Mathews we thought we would have new oceanfront property instead of the driveway. We were elated with the sea wall instead of the south side’s “French Drain” . Money did really go down the drain just a few years later. Building a seawall is expensive and most likely it will become a s separate taxing district on your real estate bill.
The greater damage, even with the sea wall, will be flooding from the inter coastal side, and no amount of money can fix that.
THINK IT THROUGH says
Why is it always left to the taxpayer to bail out private interests (home/business owners) who benefitted when nature provided a more optimal beach environment. Now that nature seems to be less generous, those interests expect the rest of the general public to ante up immense amounts of tax money to maintain what nature is slowly taking away.
Government shouldn’t be expected to make everyone “whole” in every situation, especially if the cost outweighs the benefits to those being asked pay. Everyone acts as if the money from the Corp of Engineers, FDOT, FDEP, and other non-local entities is “free money”. It all comes from the taxpayer. We must invest wisely.