Workers have been dumping new white sand at the rate of 590 cubic yards a day to buttress the dunes and protect State Road A1A from the Flagler Beach city limit down into Ormond By the Sea.
Yet Flagler Beach itself, including the area at the heart of the city that has eroded even more since Hurricane Ian, remains critically defenseless.
The shoreline just north of the Flagler Beach pier experienced a sudden and catastrophic loss of sand volume before Hurricane Ian. The hurricane’s impacts carved out almost as much again, leaving the beach nonexistent at high tide. But the storm had left a cliff-like wall of sand just below the boardwalk.
Now, that sand is gone. The boardwalk is hanging over piles, like an extension of the pier, with gaping spaces beneath it and nothing left to protect either the boardwalk or State Road A1A behind it. That further erosion has taken place not because of a storm, but because of the natural ebb and flow of tides with nothing to impede them.
Yet the only construction taking place in the area is the city’s building of a new trash dump pad for the Funky Pelican, the restaurant in the city-owned property at the Flagler Beach pier.
On Thursday, Flagler County Emergency Manager Jonathan Lord issued a cautionary sort of be-on-the-lookout weather advisory about a “blob” of a storm east of the Bahamas that the National Weather Center was giving only a modest chance of turning tropical or becoming a hurricane. Still, Lord said, while the storm does not pose dangers of heavy rains or severe winds, as with Ian, it does have a higher likelihood of elevated tides and high waves that could batter the coast yet again and cause further damage to the dunes.
In places where there are no dunes, as in the heart of Flagler Beach, the damage could be to infrastructure. City officials have been saying since Ian that they’ve been in contact with the Department of Transportation to provide emergency sands where needed. A meeting between city officials, including City Manager William Whitson, and Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie in mid-October included discussion of needed sand replacements in the city, which was to require the city applying pressure on state agencies, including DOT, to follow through with added protection.
“I can’t thank all of our partners enough for listening to the city,” Whitson said. “I’d love to come up with 14,000 cubic yards of sand right now. But at the end of the day, it’s about the money. So we’re going to have to depend on our partners to step forward and they are prepared. And what they’re telling me is, they’re monitoring.” He spoke of the line-up of state, county and contractual “partners” ready to help. “We have appointments, tentatively set up for next week, to go out and look at it with them, to try to make sure we can shortcut all these things. And if we need to take emergency action, I’m assured that we can do that.”
Whitson spoke those reassuring words to his city commission almost three months ago, on Aug. 18, before Hurricane Ian struck.
Today, the only trucks and sand in evidence were those at the south end of the city, just past the water tower and the south border of the Gamble Rogers recreation area, where dunes were also deeply carved out, leaving barely a few feet between sand remnants and the bed of A1A. but there are no properties on the west side of A1A to speak of in that stretch of road–no homes, no businesses, no recreational areas, other than Gamble Rogers to the north, which the project is not touching. It appears to be an odd place to prioritize emergency dune reconstruction.
The Department of Transportation contracted with P&S Paving of Daytona Beach to carry out the job. The white sand is being trucked in from Hawthorne, between Palatka and Gainesville. (A request was placed with DOT for information on the the contract’s worth and its footprint. That request is pending.) Workers at the site said parts of the project includes the dumping of coquina rock along the dunes as further reinforcements, as at points further north. The coquina revetment further north was also considerably eroded by Ian.
Once a year or so the county’s public information office sends out an advisory, cautioning residents or visitors not to pick palmetto berries on public lands and along dunes. Flagler Beach and the county tourism office have expended efforts and money to protect what remains of the dunes and their vegetation, and last June the Transportation Department previewed a $500,000 “vegetation restoration” project “installed to fill in gaps and supplement existing vegetation” along the dunes of A1A from Beverly Beach to Ormond Beach.
Ian’s effects have ravaged those plans. The sand-dumping ongoing south of Flagler Beach has in parts entirely covered what remained of any vegetation in order to rebuild emergency dunes, the white sand blanketing the road shoulder and sloping down to the orange coquina sands on shore like a coating of snow. In some parts, the sand covers half the vegetation, leaving the other half closer to the road intact. And in some parts, the palmettos are tall enough to supplant the new sand barrier. “They’re trying their hardest not to mess with the vegetation,” a supervisor at the site said today.
“That’s what they ought to plant, palmettos the entire length, because they’ve held up good and protected it,” he said of the dune structure.
Witnessing the erosion from ground level is dramatic enough. But drone pictures taken today by Flagler Beach attorney Scott Spradley underscore the loss of sand–and the project’s attempt to provide at least some added protection. See below.