Dick Holmberg has turned in his “shoreline analysis” to Flagler Beach government, a job the Flagler Beach City Commission hired him to do last year, for $50,000, as a step toward installing an erosion-control mechanism Holmberg himself is proposing. County government provided the money at the city’s urging. Jane Mealy, who chairs the city commission, isn’t impressed by the results.
“What I saw,” Mealy said, “was a whole lot of stuff that I’ve been seeing over and over again since 2005. I know it was before I was on the commission but I was involved before that. The only thing I saw that was new was some Google maps where he thought he’d put the project, but I don’t know why he picked those or what it’s actually going to entail.”
Mealy is holding out hope that when the commission and Homlberg meet Thursday to go over the report in an open meeting, more questions will be answered than further raised, as has been the case with Homlberg in the recent past. He owns Holmberg Technologies.
Fellow-commissioner Steve Settle wasn’t thrilled, either. “I’m going to be flat out honest with you, I was very disappointed in the product we got,” Settle said, noting that in light of what the report was supposed to be—a crucial first step to a much bigger contract–, “is very much lacking. What’s going to come next, we the commission are going to have to sit down and give some serious thought to that.”
Settle’s disappointment is especially telling: Settle, as the city’s representative on the county’s Tourist Development Council, was key in advocating for—and securing—the $50,000 through the council that made the shoreline analysis possible.
When the Flagler County Commission in November approved a $50,000 grant request from Flagler Beach to “study” a project to combat beach erosion there, commissioners were weary. They had been reluctant to approve the grant, and the county’s Tourist Development Council had initially turned it down. He essentially went on a limb for Holmberg. “Yes I did, and I wish—I’m not sure what to say about that, other than I’m disappointed,” Settle said.
Commissioner Kim Carney was kinder on the report, and said more questions will likely be answered at Thursday’s meeting. “This is not a proposal and it wasn’t designed to be a proposal,” Carney said. “It was designed to give us information, show us where the place would be,” meaning the emplacement of the erosion-control technology, called undercurrent stabilizers, “and give us an idea of what it would look like. It was not done eloquently, but it got me what I wanted to know, and he also had the right to tell us that Flagler Beach would not benefit from undercurrent stabilizers, which he did not do.”
But Carney also concedes that Homlberg’s lack of polish complicates matters for him, and for the city’s case, as the city explores alternatives to dredging.
Holmberg wasn’t likely to tell the city that his technology was a no go there: he is estimating that his technology’s installation would cost $10 million, which, his report claims, would “end the need for erosion related expenditures in the future.” He projects six square miles of beaches in the city rising by “at least two feet” of sand, with an accumulation of 2 million cubic yards of sand per mile in a year. “If we conservatively estimate that the city purchased this amount of sand for $10 a cubic foot, the cost would be $120,000,000.”
The Holmberg analysis is rich in pictures, history and schemas of where the stabilizers would be installed, and virtually half the pages are devoted to picture after picture of previous installations of Holmberg’s product—in what appears to be more of a presentation showcasing his technology rather than anything remotely resembling an analysis.
The report also makes an outright error: “The above illustration,” it notes on page 5, “shows what has happened to Flagler Beach’s shoreline as dredging has occurred.” But there’s never been dredging offshore of Flagler Beach. The report also claims that the sand just north of the pier was, 50 years ago, “even with A1A and extended to the end of the pier,” though no supporting documentation is offered.
Holmberg is the inventor of the technology he is pitching to Flagler Beach as the solution and savior of the beach. The technology, called “undercurrent stabilizers,” entails installing “fingers of concrete-slurry-filled geotextile fabric that project outward into the ocean perpendicular to the shore,” and that, over time, naturally and richly rebuild the beach’s sands. At least that’s the proposition. Whether it can work in Flagler Beach is an unanswered question.
But it’s an alternative to dredging and beach “renourishment,” the favored approach of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which entails dredging up sands offshore, dumping it on the beach and, judging from recent and repeated history, watching it wash back out to sea over time. Renourishment, as the name implies, has built in futility—and enormous costs: Flagler County has so far spent upwards of $3 million on the Corps’ own renourishment “study” for Flagler’s shore. That study’s results is due later this month or next.
The county is wedded to the Corps. Flagler Beach is not. It’s willing to give alternatives a go. In comes Holmberg, who’s been pitching his technology to the city for years, with no success.
Homlberg, the county and the city held a joint workshop in July, when the inventor had the chance to explain his technology and his methods. It didn’t go very well. He was vague. He was non-committal about the details commissioners on both government panels were asking him for. And he was curt. Holmberg doesn’t like to be questioned very much.
But he has friends in Flagler Beach, among them the earnest activist behind the city’s small but dedicated Save Flagler Beach group, who adopted Holmberg as their beach’s knight in shining stabilizers.
Holmberg would have to secure all federal and state permits before becoming eligible for more money from the county, which drew a line in the sand at the $50,000: no more money until it has clear proof of the technology’s benefit, and its permitted use. The county made its weariness about Holmberg clear in the agreement it drafted in November, with Flagler Beach, that framed the $50,000 grant. It specified in that agreement that at a July 31 meeting last year, there was “no resolution on some of the questions raised by the county and some of the members of the Tourist Development Council, and that Flagler County itself had not “made any further independent assessment of [Holmberg] or the approach [Holmberg] is recommending.”
The county also noted that “the state has advised that based on its present information, the project could not be permitted under state and federal law,” though it allowed that Flagler Beach’s confidence in the project, and in Holmberg, was higher. On Tuesday, Flagler Beach City Manager Bruce Campbell was non-committal about the study. “Don’t have anything to compare it to. I have no comparison to say this is what $50,000 worth of study should look like,” Campbell said.
Much m,ore will be said, with and by Holmberg, when the city commission holds a meeting on the analysis at the Flagler Beach City Hall chambers Thursday, at 4 p.m.
“People in Flagler County are going to have to make a decision,” Carney said. “Dick’s project might have cost us $50,000, but the army corps is up to $3.5 million, and we don’t have a report yet.”