The Flagler County Commission will soon take over all 18 miles of beaches to manage them, and save them. An ordinance is in the works to essentially surrender Flagler Beach’s portion to the county. But saving them will be exorbitantly expensive: think $5 million to $13 million a year in local burdens alone. And it will not be a one-time cost, but a permanent adjustment to a new normal of relentless sand “renourishment” of beaches and dunes, sea-wall construction and rock revetments.
Meanwhile, the county will need more studies. More public input. More analysis of funding sources, of which it currently has none, except for only the first phases of two projects that only cover a portion of the county’s 18 miles of beaches. It’ll all need between 9 and 16 million cubic yards of sand over 50 years, depending on the extent of sea level rise.
The county commission this morning heard the results of the $250,000 beach management study it commissioned last year, and was left with two certainties: doing nothing is not an option. Starting to do something is unaffordable for now, even with six options presented by Olsen Associates, the Tampa-based consultants the county hired for the study. (For an outline of the study, see: “Flagler’s Beaches Are Eroding Critically, and Will Cost County Alone $5 to $13 Million a Year to Slow.”)
The six options are variations on the extent and width of dune and beach renourishment up and down the Florida coast, from piecemeal approaches to a top-shelf approach that would extend an impending U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach and dune renourishment project on 2.6 miles of Flagler Beach all the way from the Volusia County line to the St. Johns County line. That would be the most solid, most durable approach, building dunes of some 44 cubic yards of sand a foot. But it would be just as expensive as the Corps project, which is expected to cost at least $100 million over the next 50 years, not counting the cost of inflation–or recent findings that its initial sand needs of 500,000 cubic yards will have to be doubled, sharply increasing costs.
County Commissioner Greg Hansen summed up whare the commission is at this time, in relation to the consultant’s conclusions: “The first three are just Band Aid fixes,” he said of the six alternatives presented. “And then four, five and six are unaffordable at this time. They’re just too much money. So I just want to make sure you don’t put us on record to just kind of pick one of these because I think there’s still some more stuff that has to come out.”
Sea walls are an option in some areas, but they are very expensive, and they’re not easily welcomed. “It’s not going to be a cheap one,” County Engineer Faith al-Khatib said. “But our recommendation to save our beaches, it might be a combination, building a wall and also during nourishment project. But any discussion about dollar amounts immediately zooms numbers upwards: $1.8 million just for design and permitting on a 2.4-mile stretch of beach, al-Khatib said. “We cannot just do band aid the way how we did after [Hurricane] Matthew,” she said.
At the same time, Olsen’s Christopher Creed left commissioners with no illusions: “The erosion is not going away. So you’re either going to sacrifice a project or you’re going to sacrifice existing upland, and eventually that’s going to not be acceptable to the community because you’re going to start having infrastructure impacts. And you’ve already had some already through some of these storms. And so you really know what those look like. The problem is not going away.” He added: “All the science points to the problem getting worse in the future with sea level rise. We’re continuing to watch that to see if that truly does materialize, but most communities are making plans for that to happen for all of their planning, all their critical infrastructure as well as their beach and dunes.”
The county agreed to prepare a beach-management plan in November 2019, after that trio of hurricanes–Matthew in 2016, Irma in 2017, Dorian in 2019–had done their share of damage to the coast. It wasn’t until February 2021 that the county approved the definitive contract with Olsen Associates to develop a beach management study. Olsen presented preliminary results in February, and its final study today, as the county, and especially Flagler Beach, have been reeling from inexplicable and colossal dune loss in the past few weeks below and just north of the Flagler Beach pier. There was more loss in the last few days.
One way to lower the county’s financial burden is to partner with state and federal agencies, as it did for the band-aid approach it conducted after Hurricane Matthew, rebuilding thinnish dunes all along the coast, down to Flagler Beach, or the way it’s doing with the Army Corps project. But those approaches take a very long time.
“I keep saying I’ve watched Jason grow old with this project. The planning for the Army Corps project started in 2001,” Flagler Beach Commissioner Jane Mealy said, referring to Jason Harrah, the project manager on the Corps project from its inception. He was in the meeting room today. “And now we’re finally getting to do it, so I can see this kind of plans that you’re talking about now going on for another 20 years, which doesn’t help us right now.”
Harrah had some reassuring words. “Studies now for the Corps will not take 15 years, we will not have the federal lapse in appropriations like we had the cause that,” Harrah said. “All Corps studies now under the smart planning process are three years, $3 million. To exceed three years requires congressional approval, so we cannot go past three years.”
Studies start with a sponsor–for example, the county commission–asking the Corps to look at the issue with specific parameters. Then the Corps has to have the authority to conduct the study, followed by a $3 million appropriation. St. Johns County followed those steps in 2014, got a 3-mile area studies, and followed that with yet another study that could yield an additional 5 to 7 miles.
“But in the event that you would elect to tell us, we want you to look at expanding the Flagler Beach study from here all the way to St. Johns County,” Harrah said, “that starts with a letter from the Chairman of the Commission saying: we want to enter into this and then we start the authority and the appropriations.” The corps will analyze the area for a year, then let the county know what areas would qualify, excluding areas that have sea walls.
Handwringing aside, commissioners were left to speak the only certainties they could, at least to seem as if they were on top of the issue, about an otherwise entirely un-certain future.
“The problem is not going away,” Commissioner Donald O’Brien said. “And obviously we need to figure out how we’re going to take action going forward amongst the options that we have. I think the biggest priority needs to be preservation of life and property, no matter what we do. So we have to prioritize that way amongst those 18 miles. Probably the biggest thing that stuck with me was, we need to identify a dedicated funding source so if we are going to undertake this, we can properly plan and have the funds to be able to do that long term and not band-aid it or take a piecemeal approach.”
“A financial plan is in order to be able to look at having sustainable income if we’re going to do these,” Commissioner Andy Dance said.
In the immediate future, Commissioner Dave Sullivan spoke of the benefit of jetties, or “you can put a tractor in there at low tide and for very short term fixes, start plowing that sand back up on the beach. I don’t know what the rules are with that at all. I know that it’s done all along the coast, and it’s been done for years and years and years. But funding is a key issue here. I think we have to go with a long term study.”
First steps, Hansen said, are to take over management of the beach, and issue a sponsor letter to the Corps to extent the Flagler Beach project as feasibly north, starting with the required (and $3 million) study. “We’ve talked to Jason and Faith and I’m pretty sure we’re going to do that,” he said, “At least to initiate the first part of the study, but as soon as we get our act together about what we want you to look at, I think that’s coming up pretty soon.”
All of that sand was washed away during the last hurricane and mother nature replaced it for 0$. I could have assessed that for 100k.
The dude says
At least now they’re “waiting to see” if the science is right.
That’s progress for the cons.
Except for Andy Dance, these guys aren’t all that smart. This is a big darn deal, and they just aren’t up to it. Very worrisome.
big D says
if you view the u tube of County meeting today, our Flagler Beach City Manager was looking and working on his phone the entire meeting.plus he left before public comment.what he have nothing to say . Thursday the FB commission meeting & that night is his performance rating . he should get a D . he claims 14 million in grant since he was hired but forgot to mention 11+ million was for pier which is 2 years old
Jacksonville Beach did this in 1996, they also are quite a bit larger than Flagler Beach/County for population.
Willy Boy says
The signs says “Stay off the dunes.” Appears to be some digging into the wall. A news article from Huntington Island last week stated that a man dug a cave into dune to gain a better angle for moonrise photo. It collapsed and suffocated him. Passerby saw his legs sticking out.
Willy Boy says
Make that Hutchison Island, Fl.
Jeannie 99 says
At least he got “LEGS UP” on things !
Ben Hogarth says
You don’t have 3 years and states like Florida need to start preparing for “worst case scenarios.” This means moving people and homes inland much much further and away from the coast. Eminent domain won’t be a political rhetoric piece – it’s going to be necessary policy in short order regardless of who is effected. Although most Floridians will be priced out of coastal living by insurance market changes occurring as we speak, invariably, even the rich will no longer be able to build on the coast line. It’s coming and mother nature doesn’t care about opinions on the matter.
The Thwaits Glacier is set to erode much faster than anyone had predicted in years past. We are talking about its total collapse in the next 5 years as a real probability. What this means is that as an ice sheet regulator, it limits the amount of sheet flow that moves off the Continent (Antarctica) and spills into the ocean (thereby elevating ocean levels worldwide). New research indicates that the glacier is beginning to lose its “grip” to the continent and if weak pinning points are dislodged, the glacier will simply be swept away and inevitably melt completely. The melting of the glacier alone is expecting to raise sea levels by 2 feet. Do your research and look into NOAA flood maps. Look at what a 2 foot rise in sea levels alone does worldwide. It’s catastrophic.
But it doesn’t end there. Other glaciers could quickly become dislodged and fall into the ocean as a result of the loss of the Thwaits Glacier erosion. Altogether, estimates have about a 10 foot level rise in oceans worldwide if and when this occurs. All of this is an additional calculus that was not considered in the vast majority of major climate change and sea level rise studies. This is all new information that points to a more than 5-alarm fire headed our way. Not to sound like an alarmist, but the reality of what awaits our society is truly stupefying.
And do you know what happens to Florida with a 10 foot rise in sea level? It doesn’t exist.
Thank you Ben, I’m afraid it will fall on deaf ears. Until the GOP and those that stand behind the GOP admit “climate change” is real they will kick the can down the road, though that road may be under water.
Wake up Commissioners and do something before Flagler Beach with be a town without a beach. You can then rename the town Flagler Ocean.
This beach eroson has been happening in Flagler Beach long enough so stop watching it happen and do something about it. Other states correct theirs why is Flagler County so different the their elected officials aren’t fixing the problem once and for all.
John P Flannery Jr says
Wow! All of a sudden, action needed to prevent beach erosion. I have been hearing the same old stories for 20 years, and how many studies at what cost. And now all of us, including thousands of seniors and others who even go near the beach will have their county taxes increase by who knows much? Volusia at least has lots of folks pay to use and maintain the beaches there.
In ten years, NOT A SINGLE THING will be done except spend millions more on studies a great part of A1A will just melt away. The Golden Lion will be directly on the beach and Snack Jacks will float away.
Ray K says
Will the sand come back on its own with the tides/storms?
It always does
Bob Carver says
Your article did not justify the word ‘exorbitant’ used in the headline. The costs are simply what they are, though they will certainly increase as anthropogenic global warming continues apace.
Marty Reed says
We had better get our priorities straight! What is more important, a new concrete pier or our beloved beach? Understood that Flagler Beach has always had a pier, and it is therefore, iconic to Flagler. Nevertheless, if we lose our beach, what good is the pier? Will people still visit to enjoy the pier? I also feel that by spending millions on yet another study is an exercise of “kicking the can down the road.” We’d better bank those funds and as much more as we can so as to prepare for the inevitable! However, the most important first step is to quickly move ahead with eminent domain proceedings against the sole holdout before The Army Corp pulls the funds and proceed with the long delayed beach renourishment.
Let make this clear. The beach will always be there. The houses and land will change. So If you want to spend millions on saving houses and land Flagler should pay the bill.
I personally have family that lived through superstorm Sandy which breached the Jersey Shore. Our county can no longer kick the can down the road. We need to step up to this issue before everyone is underwater . My sister who did not live on the beach but lived near barnegat bay got flooded when the water breached from the sea to the bay. The only way to solve this is the way Jacksonville is doing it and the way the jersey shore did it Is to dredge. Trucking sand in is a waste of time. Our county needs a beach mitigation plan and unfortunately we will all pay for it in some way or another. If we want to live near the beach we can’t let this go any longer.
Is just not Flagler Beach its all of the dune line in Flagler and other counties. But what’s different, the other counties seem to actually do something. This county and its commissioners do nothing, but talk a big game at election time.
M Talley says
Perhaps a source to help offset some of the expense could be a Flagler County vehicle tag/sticker. If you have a vehicle (car, truck, trailer et al) registered in Flagler County, you would be required to purchase a yearly County Tag. There would be an additional fine for not having a current tag. The price may be prorated for the differences in particular registered vehicles. There should also be an increase in the fines for ignoring the No Parking (should read “No Stopping”) along the posted A1A areas. The population of the County is approximately 120k plus. Assuming a couple thousand people don’t have a registered vehicle, and assuming the cost of a County Tag would average 20.00, that would net the county over $2,300,000.00 yearly for the beach. There would have to be a law prohibiting the use of this money for anything other than the beach, and I fear those funds would be eventually raided, but obviously this is a necessary, if nothing else a proactive, expense to maintain the beaches and A1A.
Yes….let’s tax everyone to repair dunes for a few who buy homes there….how about we tax housing within 500 feet of the shoreline according to property value. An additional 5% from county line to county line will rake in hundreds of millions.
Water Lou says
The whole planet is in a 1000 year drought cycle. ALL OVER the America’s, Europe, Asia, Australia, etc MOST ALL the rivers and lakes have now DRIED UP. With normal rain fall and snowy winters, it will take 50-100 years to bring the levels back.
But don’t you worry, the oceans are getting much higher sea levels from melting icebergs and everyone along the coast will drown .
Anyone else see a “conflict of interest” going on here ?