Some 150 people, including numerous Flagler Beach and county officials, turned out for the state Department of Transportation’s “listening sessions” Tuesday evening at a church’s hall in Flagler Beach, on options to make State Road A1A more resistant to recurring storms.
The storms are shredding the road and eroding beaches with increasing frequency and ferocity as sea levels continue to rise and protective measures, like a beach-renourishment project in its fourth year of delays in Flagler Beach, continue to languish.
The “listening session” was organized by the Florida Department of Transportation. Department officials said Tuesday evening they will be issuing a plan ahead of the Legislature’s session in March to enact more durable methods protective of the scenic road, assuming it can secure funding from lawmakers. The plan will be based on the options presented Tuesday, and will likely be a combination of those options, depending on the location in question.
The department is looking to reinforce A1A from Osprey Drive at the north end of Flagler Beach down to Roberta Road in Volusia County, a distance of 13 miles–less, when the secant wall the department built in Flagler Beach, and a 2.6-mile U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to renourish the beach south of the pier, are subtracted. Cost estimates were not on display.
The listening session, the second in two weeks–another was held in Volusia County, dring just over 100 people–was intended to give residents an opportunity to examine the four options on offer, ask questions and give feedback, verbally or in writing. Dozens of written comments are being compiled into a spreadsheet that DOT officials say should be made publicly available likely later this week.
“If they don’t do something, they’re going to lose A1A and the benefit to tourism in this area,” said Brian Walsh, who owns property along A1A and has seen dune erosion grind at the sands in front of his beachside house rapidly in the last few years.
Those who turned up did not see or hear anything they had not seen or heard before, at least regarding the options.
The transportation department is proposing four options:
- 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.
The options were presented as the synthesis of the work of a so-called “resiliency strike team” that has been meeting weekly since Hurricane Nicole shredded A1A. The team consist of representatives from the transportation department, Flagler Beach, Volusia County and Flagler County governments. (See all DOT links relevant to the proposals here and here.)
When John Tyler, the transportation department’s district director, originally described it at a Flagler Beach city commission meeting, the team was to include the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those agencies’ logos did not appear alongside those making up the “strike team” on a handouts issued Wednesday evening.
While the strike team has been portrayed as a joint effort, it was clear, at Santa Maria del Mar’s Parrish Hall, where the listening session was held, who was leading the charge: it was transportation department personnel, and transportation department personnel only, that rimmed the long tables with the elongated maps of the seashore on display, answering residents’ questions, taking their comments, handing out literature. Flagler Beach, county, Army Corps and other officials were certainly there, but they were mingled with the crowd within the rim, and might as well have been asking questions and seeking answers just like residents were. There is no question, in other words, that the plan to be issued by March will be a DOT product.
Not surprisingly, local officials like Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy, whose nearing two-decade tenure on the commission witnessed many a shredding of the beach and A1A, took this latest projection by DOT of a joint effort with a grain of salt.
“How would these agencies be working together? Are they really working together? I don’t really know,” Mealy said. “FDOT’s main thing is to save the road. Of course I want to save the road. But I also want to save the dunes and the beach. So I’m getting all these mixed messages today when I got here. And then I talked to Secretary Tyler. And he said–I confirmed with him–he said the Army Corps will still do their project for 2.6 miles, and these other options will be in the remaining 10. That’s what he said to me. And I’m good with that. I’m not in love with sea walls. I think that secant wall that’s up on 18th Street, it’s ugly as sin. I want to go the beach and look at that?” But in limited stretches, and in combination with other options, that’s what Mealy says she’d be good with.
The Army Corps project is the now 20-some year promise of renourishing the beach, or rebuilding the dunes, from South 6th to South 28th Street in Flagler Beach. The project was funded in 2018, but it’s been awaiting Flagler County’s securing of all easements from property owners along the way, to permit the Corps to do its work. It was to dredge 500,000 cubic yards of sand from a borrow pit offshore to rebuild broad dunes along the 2.6-mile stretch. The Corps would not do so if DOT were to build a seawall there, since the justification for renourishment–to protect property behind the dunes–would be pre-empted by the wall.
Jason Harrah, the Corps’ project manager all along, confirmed again Wednesday: if there’s a wall, there’s no Army Corps project. He said Rep. Mike Waltz, who represents this area, could always introduce a bill that could have Congress directing the Corps to renourish the beach in addition to a wall. But don;t hold your breath: “I haven’t seen it in my tenure in the Corps for 20 years,” Harrah said. “But stranger things have happened.”
There was this contradiction Wednesday evening, too: DOT’s options present beach renourishment as more expensive than walls. Harrah said that’s not the Corps’ view. “The dune and beach renourishment came to the top because it provided the most benefit for an average cost,” he said. “Seawalls were certainly looked at. For us they were screened out because of the large expense of a sea well, and they were not as environmentally friendly as a dune or beach renourishment program.” For one, sea walls accelerate the erosion of a beach, Harrah said.
DOT officials said their secant walls would not be duneless. To the contrary. Broad sand dunes are an integral part of the seawall approach, with sand burying the wall, as it once did all along the wall in north Flagler Beach. But all that sand was eroded in the storms and high tides since 2019, and was not replaced. It still hasn’t been replaced. That raises the concern that while sea walls could be built with the promise of sand dunes on top, the commitment to keep renourishing those sand dunes has not been clear–certainly not as clear as the Army Corps’ commitment to keep renourishing the beaches under its jurisdiction.
The burial of the seawall at the north end of Flagler Beach and the rock revetments at the south end are examples of how DOT doesn’t necessarily confine the scope its work only to its right of way, which is rather narrow. “Because there’s some areas where the dune goes outside of our right away and revetment goes outside of our right away, they have historically maintained for a long time,” a DOT official said Tuesday.
But funding for such projects is not as systematic as a federalized beach’s renourishments, which follow a pattern: those beaches get renourished every so many years, with costs shared between the federal government and the locality. When the sands erode even before their time, the beach gets renourished ahead of time. If the beach were to be wiped clean by a storm–as was the case in a federalized beach in St. Johns County–the renourishment is carried pout at the federal government’s full expense.
While resistance to sea walls has diminished since 2016, when Flagler Beach was adamantly against them, skepticism about DOT’s plans remains, even as the agency’s options were welcomed. “It’s long overdue and it cannot be something that supports only one entity of the government,” Harry Cepura said. “They’ve got to look to the people and to the beach, not just the road, and that’s what they’re looking at, just the road.”
The transportation department is emphasizing “resiliency,” meaning the sort of plan that would end the cycle of storm-destruction-reparation that has defined A1A’s fate over the years. “Resiliency” is now a term favored in all state and local agencies in the state, but it’s as much an assertion of resolve to rebuild in place as it is a mask for what the state is not doing: Florida remains a laggard, if not an opponent of, climate-change policy at a more comprehensive level: the state is enacting policies that allow property owners to rebuild stronger homes, and shoveling money at projects to strengthen beaches, but it is doing nothing to address its role in contributing the greenhouse gases that are melting glaciers and pushing sea levels against the Florida coast.
At least this time, the transportation department did not propose transporting A1A further inland, as it briefly had in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, before that storm’s fury was overwhelmed by that of Flagler Beach residents.
Obviously, the beach must be made wider as it is north and south of here where this erosion doesn’t happen.
Greed prevailed and A1A must be move much further west and yes that does mean at least one block goes down.
No sea walls. If you build sea walls, forget about a living beach and forget about turtle nests. Dune rebuilding and bi-annual renourishment is the only answer. Get on with it. The Corps knows a thing or two. Let them do their thing.
Norma Friel says
It seems to me since the erosion problem on our beaches is taking place all along our east coast. I remembered a town in New Jersey Sea Bright. Here is a link to what they are doing. https://www.thedailyjournal.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/2014/10/28/years-later-sea-bright-prepares-next-big-storm/18091901/
They are working with the Corps of Engineers also. Perhaps, Flagler Beach can
learn from their experiences.
DennisC Rathsam says
I d like to quote the Four Tops, for this foolish indever. “It,s the same, old song…..
Hammock Dweller says
[Caution: the following comment is inaccurate. See the correction below.–FL]
There is zero evidence that sea levels around Florida have risen.
The issues we are having are not due to sea level rises. They are due to strong erosion forces that have been in place for years plus higher severe storm activity.
Now that storm activity could be climate change related (it is a point of debate). And IF sea levels were to rise then that would further aggravate the situation.
But to write that our beach problem is due to sea levels rising is just irresponsible.
Hammock Dweller is inaccurate. According to a 2022 NOAA report on sea levels, “whereas [global mean sea level] GMSL has risen by about 17 cm over the last 100 years (1920–2020), with noted acceleration since about 1970, relative sea level (RSL) averaged along the contiguous United States (CONUS) has risen about 28 cm over the same period with similar onset of acceleration.” That’s one. Two, the report predicts continuing, accelerating sea level rise equivalent to 100 years’ worth over the next 30 years. It is not a matter of IF sea levels are rising, but how much, and how fast. Do not use this site to disseminate false information.
Ben Hogarth says
Congratulations Hammock Dweller, everything you just said couldn’t have been more incorrect.
For the edification of readers, I recommend checking out the site listed above (among many others) to see exactly how much sea level rise has specifically impacted Florida coastal boundaries. The excerpt:
“The sea level around Florida is up to 8 inches higher than it was in 1950. This increase is mostly due to ice melting into the ocean and, complicated by the porous limestone that the state sits on, it’s causing major issues. Many traditional methods to solve for sea level rise and flooding in Florida won’t work, because water can flow through the porous ground, up from below, and under sea walls. In Miami-Dade County, the groundwater levels in some places are not high enough relative to the rising sea levels, which has allowed saltwater to intrude into the drinking water and compromised sewage plants. There are already 120,000 properties at risk from frequent tidal flooding in Florida.3 The state is planning over $4 billion in sea level rise solutions, which include protecting sewage systems, raising roads, stormwater improvements, and seawalls.”
I’d also like to mention that forecast / model projections from the 90s have all grossly underestimated the “rate of change” or “velocity of change” with regard to rising sea levels. Even the most “liberal” estimates were off by quite a margin. The good news is that our science is improving and the margin of error will diminish over time. However, the EVIDENCE is clear that the oceans are rising and the variables causing the destablization of the ecosystem are man-driven (anthropogenic). And yes, erosion will continue to occur as oceans rise, storms become more frequent and intense, and arrogant coastal construction perpetuates to the extent that it causes the land to sink.
So once again Hammock Dweller, your “zero evidence” statement is reprehensible, and I am appreciative to FlaglerLive staff for correcting it promptly here.
Deborah Coffey says
Yep, we’ve got a real science denier here. Can we NOT publish misinformation like this?
John Stove says
The definition of Insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. With the tens of millions of sand and work done to protect a few miles of coastline this HAS TO BE one of the most expensive sections of beach anywhere.
If you cant/wont move A1A back west, then you will have to armor the shoreline to give you any sort of chance of not losing the road after every storm.
Remember that this money from the ACOE is not “free” everyone pays for it via taxes to the Federal Government and people are going to start to wonder what in the H**L is going on in Flagler Beach every few years!!
The Villa Beach Walker says
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has responsibility in the City of Flagler Beach over the A1A and SR100 (Moody) roadways. To expect FDOT to be ‘stewards of the beach’ is nonsensical because their authority ends at the sides of the roadway. While dissapointing to someone like me who lives and owns property beach side (really A1A side in Flagler Beach), the FDOT folks are doing their job and more by a hosting this public viewing of the options to protect A1A.
I may be mistaken after reading the latest info, but it sounds to me like the plan is either to save the roadway, or save the beach, and you can only have one or the other with the available options. Since this process is being led by FDOT, it appears that those who have the ultimate decision making authority have indicated that their main priority is an option that will help save A1A, and therefore the businesses and homes along that state route, at the expense of the beach and the turtles. I’m not judging any of the options or decisions that will have to be made but it doesn’t seem like there is any good option available that will do both.
Ralph Chianelli says
I was not able to attend the session held by the Corp of Engineers and I think most of what has been proposed seems reasonable but I did not see (or hear about) any suggestions for a living breakwater; a series of cages seeded with shellfish that would sit on the sea floor and mitigate wave action that tears away at the shoreline.
These cages could be stacked and strategically placed to alter the damaging wave action. They also have the added feature of being able to be moved as needed if the wave action shifts due to off shore conditions.
This was one of the great ideas from a documentary called “Sinking Cities”. I think it would be worth considering for our application to save our shoreline.
Once again, the barrier island is the “living breakwater”. Left to her own, Mom Nature will protect herself. That is the purpose of the island. It is man’s greed and vanity which has created the ‘problem’. Further, if you think for one minute that anything movable that man places in the direct path of a hurricane caused storm surge will remain in place, you are gravely mistaken.
Yesterday I walked along the beach north of the Flagler Pier where the granite boulder ‘sea wall’ is (where part of A1A was taken out. It was low tide, but I could see where the high tide mark came all the way up to and into the boulders. The next hurricane will do the same damage unless massive efforts are made to repair that area. Perhaps also, placing ‘sand/artificial barriers’ a little offshore such as Ormond and Daytona have will alleviate the power of the ocean currents and waves in that area so the next storm won’t be so devastating?
Well that’s all fine and dandy, but what about the NORTH of the county. What are those plans, more freaking sand.