The Flagler County Commission this morning ratified the final agreement clearing the way for a historic dune-rebuilding project on 2.6 miles of shoreline in Flagler Beach, starting in April 2024–almost a quarter century after the federal government started considering the stretch for long-term safeguarding from erosion and rising seas.
“This is like a historical day considering how long this has taken-0-years–to get done,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve the agreement and its associated tentacles.
The county over the past three years was locked in long and at times exasperating struggles to secure easements from some 140 property owners, without which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could not rebuild dunes in part on private property. (See: “‘We’re Fighting For the Life of Flagler Beach’: County Urges Property Owners’ Cooperation in Beach Rebuilding.”) While most property owners signed on early, the campaign bogged down into attrition with the last dozen property owners or so, then into what looked like an impasse with the final two, then the last, lone hold-out.
Little by little, and with the Army Corps threatening to pull the project and redirect its funding elsewhere, the county got the easements signed.
The commission recognized the workhorse behind the three-year effort: County Attorney Al Hadeed, who masterminded the strategy starting in February 2020. And it recognized the role Flagler Beach attorney Scott Spradley played in the last six weeks to achieve a breakthrough of what had become the equivalent of legal trench warfare between the county and the last hold-out.
“Oh, my God, he was a life-saver,” Hadeed said of Spradley, whom he knew by reputation. “I wanted to have an absolute top of the line expert. I mean, that’s what we try to do in every case.”
Hadeed in late December discovered that the hold-out, Cynthia d’Angiolini, had not disclosed ownership of the two parcels in question to the bankruptcy court as she went through bankruptcy in the last three years. He retained Spradley, a bankruptcy attorney, who then used a novel, aggressive approach to leverage that deception into a settlement. D’Angiolini for over a year had been herself trying to leverage her position against the county in hopes of getting money for the two easements. At one point the county was ready to pay, but the two sides disagreed about how much.
One result of the settlement Spradley and Hadeed finally negotiated with d’Angiolini’s attorney only last week, literally during a break in a hearing before a bankruptcy judge, is that no money will change hands: d’Angiolini has agreed to sign the easements without money. She had little choice. The county was ready to go to trial over her deception, which could have cost her a lot more. Spradley had filed a motion asking the court to reject the disposition of d’Angiolini’s bankruptcy and allow the two parcels in question to go in receivership. At that point the county could have gotten its easements, and d’Angiolini would have lost control over the land.
Obviously, that would not have been a favorable turn for the property owner. So she agreed to sign. The county gave her the same assurances, in writing, that it gave the previous hold-out, Leonard Surles: that no matter what, the dune line will be protected from construction and other intrusions, other than dune-management, in perpetuity, and that the view would be protected. “She said she would sign voluntarily If she received the same hold harmless,” Hadeed said. (“‘We Have a Deal’: Dune Hold-Out in Flagler Beach Concedes, Clearing Path to Renourishment.” See the deal document here.)
If d’Angiolini changes her mind, the federal court has set a trial date in April, which would compel her to testify as to why she deceived the court.
In that sense, Spradley legally did in bankruptcy court what Gen. John Pershing did militarily on the Western front when he broke a three-year stalemate in 1917.
Hadeed and Spradley were only the most visible factors behind the campaign. There were others, most notably Carla Cline and Craig Atack. In August 2020 they put out a fund-raising call, very quickly got $60,000, and used the money to convince several hold-outs to sign on. The county was not involved in that approach, as equally novel, if unorthodox, as Spradley, and just as effective. But a few property owners still held out.
The easements are not a taking: the land remains fully in the property owners’ hands. All they did is give the Corps permission to work there when necessary. That will prove to be the case every few years.
When the county initially signed the contract with the Corps, the assumption was that the Corps would renourish the beach every 10 to 11 years. That’s now almost certainly too optimistic. With rising seas and more violent storms, the renourishments are more likely to be necessary every few years, especially in the early years of the project, when the Corps will have to lay down a base for the beach, again and again, before the broader, thicker sands take hold.
The project in 2018 was expected to cost well over $100 million over its 50-year span, with future renourishments split 505- between the federal government and Flagler County. If Flagler cannot secure the money, with its own dollars or state grants, the project dies. The county has secured money for the first phase, initially priced at a $17 million, with the federal government assuming 60 percent of that cost. (See: “Many Questions Remain as County and City Approve $100 Million, 50-Year Beach-Protection Plan in Flagler Beach.”)
The beach will be rebuilt with upward of 1.3 million cubic yards of sand dredged from a borrow pit 11 miles offshore.
“Of course, we’re very pleased that we’re on the cusp of completing 100 percent of the voluntary easements in the federal project area,” Hadeed said. “That’s not only important to allow the Army Corps to continue its implementation steps. But as important in my view, is that it gives us access to the federal offshore sand borrow site for all the work that we’re going to be doing in Flagler Beach, not just in the Army Corps project, but beyond the Army Corps project.”
Hadeed also explained why he hung fire on the eminent domain proceedings the county had been threatening for two years: a recent appellate court decision–controlling law in Flagler–could have hung up those proceedings for years, had they gone forward. That’s been the case in Brevard County, where a project has been held up several years over an eminent domain proceeding. That’s without mentioning the cost, which would have been steep and subtracted from money appropriated to the Corps project, or the uncertain outcome.
Hadeed commended the County Commission for its role–essentially, trusting him and the legal strategy without interfering or second guessing it, whether ahead of retaining Spradley or ahead of clearing the way for the motions–and the lawsuit–Spradley filed on the county’s behalf.
“The board has reposed such faith in us to do our job. You have no idea, you have no no idea how much that’s appreciated,” Hadeed said.