The Flagler Beach City Commission opposes a Florida Department of Transportation plan to extend a seawall from South 13th to South 14th Street in Flagler Beach. The plan is to preserve State Road A1A, which is threatened by erosion. The transportation department announced last week that, as it did in 2005, it was pulling back plans to build that seawall for now. But postponement is not elimination. As Flagler Beach officials recognize, their city depends on the beach and the road. Shery Epley, a resident of Flagler Beach, sent a six-point action plan to each city commissioner late last month that, regardless of the transportation department’s timetable, would give the initiative on saving beach and road to Flagler Beach. The plan follows.
By Sherry Epley
To enforce our will of “no seawall,” our Flagler Beach city commissioners need to develop a strong, comprehensive strategy to oppose the plans of the Florida Deparrtment of Transportation, and require that they implement an environmentally acceptable solution to the restoration of our badly eroded coastline and the preservation of State Road A1A. Chances are that we will need to mount a campaign that involves several tactics:
1. Education. I was astonished and disappointed to see that not one commissioner encouraged the dog owners to stay for the “stop the seawall” portion of the March 24th meeting. It was the perfect opportunity to continue educating our citizens on the seriousness of the situation with the plans for a seawall. We need to teach all who enjoy our beaches about the harsh reality of how seawalls speed erosion and therefore destroy dunes and beaches that dogs, as well as humans enjoy.
2. Circle the wagons. We need to develop the campaign from a public relations perspective, in addition to closely involving our civic organizations in opposing the FDOT plan. It is amazing to me that the Chamber of Commerce isn’t up in arms about this situation. Our town is unique in that its lifeblood is derived from the natural beauty of our environment. While often the Chambers of Commerce is in political opposition to the environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency, this circumstance provides an extraordinary opportunity for those two forces to unite in a campaign for the common good. The solution that saves our environment will also save the tourist- and resident- serving businesses of Flagler Beach.
3. Use the environmental protection laws to our advantage. The wonderful sea turtles and right whales are protected under the endangered species laws. Any solution proposed by the FDOT/Army Corps of Engineers that is proven to harm those species or their habitat is subject to regulations. We may need to consider the possibility of implementing a lawsuit against the FDOT/Corps of Engineers to protect those species.
4. Clearly define what options may be acceptable to our community. The FDOT has a responsibility to preserve A1A. Doing nothing to stop the erosion of the dune that supports the road is not acceptable for anyone. Since the FDOT remains entrenched in armor and dredge methods, which we oppose, we should create a task force to actively seek out scientists and engineers who may be able suggest or create viable options for restoring the dune structure. Once those ideas and options are presented to the FDOT, we must stand strong and require that the FDOT fully investigate the feasibility of using one or more of the solutions presented instead of rejecting them immediately, as they have done in the past.
5. Organize a committee to create fluid communications between residents, civic organizations, city government and relevant state and federal agencies. If our citizens are going to be successful in opposing such well organized, professionally run organization as FDOT, we need to create a modern communications structure that easily keeps our community abreast of the latest news, developments and meetings, in addition to providing a convenient way for them to sign petitions, email and call state and federal representatives, and volunteer to actively participate in the campaign. We should utilize public records such as lists of email addresses to communicate with our citizens in order to educate them on this subject and encourage them to participate, according to their abilities and talents.
6. Fund-raising. Costs would involve such things as fliers, signs, web site development, professional studies, meetings and possibly public relations professionals, and attorneys, etc. Quite possibly there may be a need to raise funds beyond our tax structure to roll out a successful project of this magnitude.
In closing, I would like to suggest that since saving our dunes and beach equals saving our town, this issue should be escalated to be the number one priority of our city’s leaders. In my opinion, this campaign needs a chairperson who is passionate about the issue, courageous enough to oppose governmental agencies, and charismatic enough to excite and involve the citizens who can make the campaign successful for us all. My impression, from the March 24 commission meeting, is that City Commission Chairman John Feind is not the champion we need to lead us to victory. I would encourage the commission membership to select a commission chairperson who will devote the vast time and energy needed to be successful in heading up such a vital project.
Sherry Epley is a resident of Flagler Beach. Reach her by email here.